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Skyports assists NHS to launch UK’s first COVID-19 test drone delivery service in Scotland

Image credits: Skyports

Skyports is an urban air mobility infrastructure provider and drone delivery operator in London. The company designs, builds and operates take-off and landing infrastructure for​ air taxis. It has also partnered with electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) passenger and cargo vehicle manufacturers.

Further, Skyports provide​s drone delivery through its logistics arm, Delivery by Skyports.

Now, the delivery drones operator has also come forward to help NHS carry COVID test samples and other medical materials between medical facilities in the Argyll & Bute region in Scotland in a first-of-its-kind move.

UK’s first COVID test drone delivery service

Argyll & Bute Health & Social Care Partnership (HSCP) started the UK’s first COVID test drone delivery service after a three-month proof-of-concept phase last year between Lorn & Islands Hospital and Mull & Iona Community Hospital. It aims to help improve COVID-19 related logistics to and from remote locations. Now, it has expanded its delivery service and is entirely operational.

Notably, Skyports has become the first operator to receive permission from the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to carry diagnostic specimens by drone.

Duncan Walker, Chief Executive Officer at Skyports, said: “Using drone deliveries within supply chains can create significant time and cost savings. This initiative is a natural progression from our recent trials with the NHS in Scotland as we scale our operations, supporting a wider network of hospitals and medical practices as they continue to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Stephen Whiston, Head of Strategic Planning for Argyll and Bute Health and Social Care Partnership, said: “Argyll and Bute HSCP is delighted to once again be at the forefront of using this innovative technology to assess how unmanned drones can enhance our logistics operations and improve services for patients and clinicians in some of our most remote and island communities. This three-month project working with Skyports will provide critical evidence on the real benefits this technology can bring to the NHS not only in Argyll and Bute but across Scotland.”

Drone delivery powered by Swoop Aero

Skyports will use the Swoop Aero drone-powered logistics platform. The vehicles will be controlled from the Skyports Operations Centre in Oban and fly automatically along predefined routes. The communication between the drone and the ground control station will be provided by Vodafone’s 4G network and satellite communications to ensure connectivity at all time.

The project has been funded by a joint initiative between the UK Space Agency (UKSA) and the European Space Agency (ESA) to utilise space-enabled technology and services to support the NHS.

15 minutes drone delivery service

The delivery drones from Skyports will carry up to 3kg of critical medical supplies up to 40 miles. The cargo will include COVID-19 and other test samples, medicines, essential personal protective equipment (PPE) and COVID-19 testing kits.

Using delivery drones, access to hard-to-reach areas can be improved. This significantly increases the speed of transport and reduces the time considerably in some areas of the Argyll & Bute region. The 36 hour journey by road and ferry is reduced to just 15 minutes. Also, it increases the frequency of pickups.

Initially, the drone delivery service will operate between Lorn & Islands Hospital in Oban, Mid-Argyll Community Hospital in Lochgilphead, Easdale Medical Practice in Clachan Seil and the Mull & Iona Community Hospital in Craignure.

It’s noteworthy that the drone delivery of COVID tests and medicines will be operated both as a scheduled service and an on-demand service. The orders will be placed by NHS staff through an online system developed by digital consultants Deloitte.

Founded in 2018 by Duncan Walker and Simon Morrish, Skyports is an advanced air mobility company developing and operating landing infrastructure for the electric air taxi revolution, as well as operating cargo drone deliveries. The company has raised total £6.3 million funding so far.