Scotland planning drone transport, training, and research hub

Scotland drones

Drones for good is coming to northwest Scotland, where plans are afoot for the craft to make regular deliveries to Hebrides islands from a UAV flight center that will serve as a research, development, and training facility to boot.

The drone project is slated to operate from the coastal town of Orban, situated in the Argyll and Bute region of Scotland directly across from Mull and other islands in the Hebrides archipelago beyond. Using a government subsidy of $22,754 from a $2.3 billion in UK funds earmarked for Scottish development and job creation projects, the West Coast Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Innovation Logistics Hub will be created in an unused area of Orban’s airport. Taking its cue from the town’s “gateway to the islands” nickname, the proposed center will operate regular drone deliveries of medical supplies, lab samples, merchandise, and other cargo.

Royal Mail is also contemplating using the initiative to ferry its post by air to Hebrides destinations, as it’s done in the past to islands off the south coast of England.

“The potential of this innovative project is hugely exciting,” said Iain Stewart, UK minister for Scotland. “Drones are playing an increasingly important role in everyday life, no more so than in Argyll and Bute, where pioneering drone usage is taking place.”

The project is a direct outgrowth of the three-month trial conducted last year by London-based drone delivery and advanced air mobility infrastructure specialist Skyports, which flew thousands of medical supplies to and between National Health Service facilities on the islands. It was estimated those test flights cut some 12,000 hours of transport and delivery time from normal boat and road methods.

Skyports is also behind the initiative to create Orban’s permanent UAV delivery center for the islands, and use it as a research and training facility dedicated to next-generation air transport. Joining in the effort is the Orban-based Association for Marine Science, a leading European research organization that deploys drones in its work. The academy part of the project will accommodate development and testing of new drone uses and tech, and offer pilot training for indoor and all-weather outdoor operation. 

Other applications planned for the center include monitoring and inspection of offshore windfarms; Association for Marine Science’s detection of sea plastics and noxious algae that threaten seaweed harvests and other aquaculture enterprises; and development of European Space Agency research tech being prepared for use on UAVs. 

The cutting-edge center also aims to attract a wide array of drone sector businesses wanting to use the hub as an incubator for new craft and service testing. That would not only be a boon for the local and national economies, but also improve the lives of residence in remote areas served by new UAV activity.

“Alongside the flight trials, we have been working with Oban Airport to undertake technical due diligence on how a drone innovation hub could be incorporated into the airport,” Skyports director of drone services Alex Brown told the Orban Times. “(It) would support permanent drone operations to service the Highlands and Islands, which will create skilled employment and investment in the area and improve mobility and services to rural communities.”

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