in Aerospace

CAELUS completes live flight trials

Posted 6 November 2023

Project CAELUS - led by AGS Airports in partnership with NHS Scotland - has taken a step forward by conducting live flight trials in a bid to deliver the UK’s first national medical distribution network using drones.

Image courtesy Glasgow Airport / AGS Airports

Live flying took place between Glasgow Airport and NHS Golden Jubilee in Clydebank earlier this week.

CAELUS (Care & Equity – Healthcare Logistics UAS Scotland), is part funded by the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Future Flight Challenge.

It brings together 16 partners including the University of Strathclyde, Skyports Drone Services, NATS and NHS Scotland. Together they are working to deliver what will be the first national drone network that can transport essential medicines, bloods and other medical supplies throughout Scotland including to remote communities.

Since January 2020, the CAELUS consortium has designed drone landing stations for NHS sites across Scotland and developed a virtual model (digital twin) of the proposed delivery network which connects hospitals, pathology laboratories, distribution centres and GP surgeries across Scotland.

Live flight trials were operated by CAELUS consortium member Skyports Drone Services. The UK-based operator is an experienced provider of drone delivery, survey and monitoring services. The company has a long history of operating medical drone deliveries, including the first drone deliveries with the NHS.

Fiona Smith, AGS Airports Group Head of Aerodrome Strategy and CAELUS Project Director, said: “These flight trials are an important step towards the integration of drones into modern airspace and enabling the safe use of drones at scale within Scotland’s airspace. The input from all partners has resulted in a high quality safety case for the flights undertaken in a busy airport environment which can be transposed for other sites in future”

“It has only been possible because of the hard work of every consortium member.

“The CAELUS project is set to revolutionise the way in which healthcare services are delivered in Scotland. A drones network can ensure critical medical supplies can be delivered more efficiently, it can reduce waiting times for test results and, more importantly, it can provide equity of care between urban and remote rural communities.

“We are delighted to have conducted this live flight trial and look forward to carrying out more in the coming months.”

Anna, Postma-Kurlanc, NATS Technical Solutions Lead said: “Safety is always the first priority in aviation and Project CAELUS is no exception.

“By ensuring we have the processes and procedures in place for every drone flight to happen safely, NATS, alongside our CAELUS consortium partners, are able to demonstrate how uncrewed operations can coexist in a commercial airport operation within controlled airspace. This is a vital step forward to not only scaling the CAELUS project but also other NATS beyond visual line of sight projects nationwide and globally.”

Liam Day, Commercial Project Manager & CAELUS Lead, Skyports Drone Services said: “It's always fantastic to get our drones flying on new projects, especially when it marks an important step in delivering an impactful service that will benefit local communities and access to healthcare.

“We're looking forward to continuing our journey with the CAELUS consortium to support NHS Scotland's adoption of safe, efficient and sustainable drone services.”

CAELUS consortium
The CAELUS consortium comprises:

  • AGS Airports Limited                                                                                     
  • ANRA Technologies UK
  • Arup
  • AtkinsRéalis               
  • Cellnex UK  
  • Commonplace Digital
  • Connected Places Catapult                                                                                         
  • DGP Intelsius  
  • Dronamics
  • NATS
  • NHS Scotland
  • Plane Finder
  • Skyports Drone Services
  • The Drone Office                                                                                                                          
  • Trax International
  • University of Strathclyde

Karen Bell, Joint Innovation Lead for CAELUS for NHS explained: "We are delighted to have had a successful flight trial here in the West Coast of Scotland. Years of preparation with all of our partners have taken us to this point.

“We are well positioned to participate in this drone trial because of our vast geographical area of island and remote populations. This work has the potential to greatly improve our services closer to home. Now we can take the time to reflect on this experience and instil the improvements required."

AtkinsRéalis Technical Director for Architecture, Chris Crombie, is leading on the design for the landing pods and ground-based infrastructure for the project. He said: “The live flight trials are a crucial point to reach in the project, and brings this important drone network a step closer for the people living in Scotland who will benefit.

“It also demonstrates how we as a consortium are working together to achieve the common goal of lifting this great idea off the page, or laptop, and literally launching it into reality.

“At AtkinsRéalis we are playing our part in ensuring the infrastructure on the ground is designed to not only provide a technically advanced facility for the drone to land, but also to make sure it is sustainable by design, mobile and light-touch in terms of its environmental impact.”

Dr Marco Fossati, of the Aerospace Centre of Excellence at the University of Strathclyde and CAELUS Principal Investigator at Strathclyde said: “It’s exciting to see the next significant phase of Project CAELUS underway, with live flight trials bringing a potentially revolutionary new mode of medical transport one step closer.”

Allan Shields, CAELUS Clinical Lead,  Scottish Ambulance Service, said: “This innovative scheme has the potential to benefit communities across Scotland, including those in remote and rural areas.

“We look forward to continuing to work with AGS Airports and partners on developing the project going forward.”

Mike Saunders, CEO Commonplace Digital, said: “We are excited that Commonplace is helping understand the community impact of drones as part of this innovative project.”




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