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Transport / Large drones transporting items like blood samples would be “quantum leap forward”, HIAL boss says

The UAV taking off at Kirkwall Airport before heading to North Ronaldsay with residents' mail. Photo: Colin Keldie/SATE

LARGE drones could be used in Shetland to transport items like medicine and blood samples in a “quantum leap forward” in connecting communities.

Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (HIAL) managing director Inglis Lyon said the project is subject to a successful funding bid.

In addition, there will be test drone flights in April between Kirkwall and Unst for the Royal Mail.

Lyon said the funding bid relates to introducing unmanned drones in Shetland, Kirkwall and the west coast of Scotland.

He told a meeting of Shetland’s external transport forum on Thursday that this could result in around five drones being introduced in each area.

It would be run through HIAL’s Kirkwall based Sustainable Aviation Test Environment (SATE) project.

This is the UK’s first operationally-based, low-carbon aviation test centre.

A large drone has already been flown between Kirkwall and Fair Isle through the project.

The same drone, operated by Windracers, also undertook a trial delivering mail to the island of North Ronaldsay in Orkney.

The large drone can fly up to 2,000ft and it is said to be able to operate in poor weather conditions.

Windracers provides transportation services to the humanitarian aid, research and environmental protection sectors. One possibility is for it to deliver medical supplies to remote health and care providers.

Lyon also told Thursday’s meeting that HIAL hopes to complete work on revised plans for the future of air traffic control in the region by the middle of the year before putting it forward to the government.

In something of a U-turn after pressure from unions and politicians, HIAL intends to introduce a surveillance centre in Inverness but keep local air traffic jobs in the islands.