Plans for a drone hub to service Scotland’s islands with unmanned flights have taken a major step forward with UK Government funding.
Argyll and Bute Council has welcomed confirmation of the award of more than £170,000 UK Government Community Renewal funding to create an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Innovation logistics hub at Oban airport.
The funding boost for the hub and a drone-flying training academy builds on the Argyll and Bute Rural Growth Deal proposal, which includes plans for a vertiport take-off and landing facility at the airport. The award will help develop the business case for both the hub and academy facilities.
The Oban Airport hub will be a high-tech base for electrically-powered drones to transport medicines, biological samples and cargo between islands and the mainland.
Building on the strengths and experience of existing Advance Air Mobility activity in the area, Argyll and Bute council is working in partnership with Skyports, the leading drone-landing infrastructure design and delivery company, to develop plans.
Last year a Skyports initiative using drones to fly thousands of samples from the islands to NHS facilities over a three-month period, saving 11, 00 hours waiting time.
Royal Mail are interested in UAVs as part of their service delivery and have undertaken trials with Skyports from Oban out to the island of Mull. Inspecting and maintaining offshore windfarms could also benefit from the use of drones.
Councillor Robin Currie, Leader of Argyll and Bute Council:
“This new investment is extremely welcome news for Argyll and Bute and will deliver a significant boost to the region’s economic prospects. It takes us a step closer to establishing the UAV logistics hub which would see the area become a centre of excellence for this highly innovative use of drone technology and would lead to the creation of much-needed highly skilled jobs.
“Alongside the benefits for the local economy and employment, the use of this ground-breaking technology would be extremely valuable in terms of the lifeline the hub’s services would provide for our remote and rural island residents.”
Alex Brown, Director of Drone Services, Skyports:
“In 2021 we transported COVID-19 tests, pathology samples and medicine up to 50 miles between NHS medical facilities in the Argyll and Bute. Alongside the flight trials, we have been working with Oban Airport to look at how permanent drone operations can service the highlands and islands. Having a dedicated drone hub would create skilled employment and bring further investment to the area. We’re incredibly excited about this project and look forward to working closely with Argyll and Bute Council and the Argyll and Bute Health and Social Care Partnership to make Argyll and Bute the leading region in the UK for Advanced Air Mobility”’
Dr Phil Anderson, Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) Head of Robotics:
“It's fantastic to see Argyll and Bute Council, tech businesses and government recognise the unique position of Oban Airport as a national centre for airborne robotic operations, and pull together to deliver this facility.
By combining commercial logistics to the Highlands and Islands alongside training and expertise in research and innovation, Oban is set to be a significant hub in this future of these airborne platforms. SAMS is excited to be involved with the Oban development of this unique facility. SAMS will focus on training and innovation; beginner pilots or bespoke designers will have access to indoor, all-weather test facilities, whilst deep-ocean and polar scientists can practice over-the-horizon operations prior to departure.”
In November, the Council announced that Argyll and Bute had been awarded over £2 million of UK Community Renewal Funding, one of the largest awards in Scotland, as part of the UK Government’s Levelling Up Agenda.
Argyll and Bute Council submitted successful bids for a range of projects including the UK’s only dedicated seaweed industry facility near Oban, MACC Hydrogen Futures, a project to help establish a green hydrogen production and distribution facility at Machrihanish and the Dunoon Project which aims to develop a local forest into a world class tourism offering.