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Exclusive: Drones to begin delivering medicine in Queensland

written by Hannah Dowling | December 8, 2021
The Swoop Aero KITE unmanned cargo drone can carry up to 5kgs for up to 180km. (Swoop Aero)

Drone logistics firm Swoop Aero will soon be free to move medical equipment and supplies via drones into regional Queensland.

The company has today announced it received approval for Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) operations from the Civil Aviation Safety Authority, which will allow the move, first touted in February this year.

As the name suggests, BVLOS approval allows Swoop Aero to remotely operate their drones over long distances that extend past the individual’s field of view, allowing for fully automated operations.

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It comes after Swoop Aero announced in February that it would trial delivering medicine and supplies via automated drones to Goondiwindi, in partnership with local healthcare providers, once regulatory approvals permitted.

In light of the approval, the Melbourne-based firm will begin operations this month at its hub at the Goondiwindi Aerodrome on the Queensland-NSW border.

According to the company, this new BVLOS approval will support Swoop Aero to give residents in regional communities better, faster, and more convenient access to health care essentials.

The approval will go hand-in-hand with its dangerous goods approval, which allows the company to transport critical medical supplies while maintaining chain of custody.

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According to Swoop Aero’s Australian operations manager Daniel Scandar, the firm’s operations under its new BVLOS approval will work to “quickly connect Australian regional patients with medical supplies and equipment”.

The timing is significant, given much of southern Queensland, particularly Goondiwindi, continues to face significant flooding, increasing demand for medical support, supplies and transport via air.

“We can also complete the circle of teleheath for rural patients by providing on-demand medical logistics via air,” Scandar said.

“Today is a proud milestone for Swoop Aero,” said Swoop Aero CEO and co-founder Eric Peck. “The CASA approvals will see Swoop Aero drones launch right here in Australian skies.

“Our approvals are a testimony to our strong regulatory experience overseas, our operational excellence flying over 10,000 BVLOS missions across a number of countries and our strong operating procedures.”

Meanwhile, Zac Kennedy, the company’s director of regulatory affairs said the firm has been working with the government and aviation authorities to help design the appropriate regulatory framework for drone logistics operations.

“Australia’s airspace is rapidly transforming to account for new airspace users such as drone logistics,” he said.

“We are proud to be leading the way in how to make this transformation a sustainable one to ensure our skies remain safe for traditional and emerging airspace users alike, as well as the broader community.”

In October, Swoop announced a new partnership with Quickstep, which will see the aerospace composites manufacturer assist the manufacturing and delivery of the new Australian-built KITE unmanned cargo aircraft.

KITE is Swoop Aero’s recently launched next-generation freight drone. It can carry a payload of up to 5 kilograms, at a speed of up to 200 kilometres per hour, for a range of up to 180 kilometres on a single charge.

Under the new partnership, Quickstep will supply Swoop Aero with engineering, tooling and manufacturing services for KITE, which is currently in the process of achieving its US Federal Aviation Administration certification.

The deal also includes an initial production run of aircraft ship sets worth $1.5 million, with a delivery period running to mid-2022.

At the time the Goondiwindi trial was first announced, local pharmacist Lucy Walker said, “Many of my customers live on farms or small towns in outlying areas. In some cases, a visit to our pharmacy to collect their vital medicines may mean a three-hour round trip.

“Importantly, we will learn a great deal from the trial, what works well and what may need improving. We can use these learnings to not only fine tune the service to our community but also share with other regional TerryWhite Chemmart pharmacies around Australia who may be looking to investigate a drone delivery service.”

Swoop Aero has generated headlines since its foundation in 2017, including being the first company in the world to remotely pilot commercially used drones from another country.

Swoop flew PPE in Malawi during the COVID-19 pandemic, while piloting the aircraft from Australia.

It’s also been behind a series of pioneering projects, including transporting a vaccine to a baby on a small Pacific island in conjunction with UNICEF.

The aircraft flew 40 kilometres across rugged mountains in Vanuatu that otherwise take hours to cross by road. The company says around 20 per cent of children in the country don’t receive important vaccinations because the supply is too difficult.

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