World's biggest drone superhighway to 'revolutionise' supply chains

18 July 2022

A project to create 165 miles of “drone superhighways” across the Midlands and the Southeast has been described as “revolutionary” for supply chain transportation.

Dubbed “Project Skyway”, the scheme will connect Reading, Oxford, Milton Keynes, Cambridge, Coventry, and Rugby over the next two years, making it the world's largest drone network.

The project, which has been developed by drone manufacturers Altitude Angel alongside BT,  has been approved funding as part of a £273m investment into aerospace innovation announced by the government.

The superhighway will be used to transport medical supplies including test samples, blood and human organs between hospitals, an Altitude Angel spokesperson told Supply Management.

They added that the tech will be used to transport "high value low frequency" goods including car parts, and said “anything that can be moved by drone will be moved by drone”. 

The scheme will have the option to expand the corridor to other locations in the country. 

Richard Parker, CEO and founder of Altitude Angel, said: “The capability we are deploying and proving through Skyway can revolutionise the way we transport goods and travel in a way not experienced since the advent of the railways did in the 18th century: the last transport revolution.”

He said the technology would allow crewed and uncrewed aviation to “safely coexist”, meaning the airspace occupied by the superhighway will remain open to other air users, including general aviation. Parker said the scheme will help “level up” green transportation across Britain.

Dave Pankhurst, director of drones at BT, said: “The social and economic potential of drones is immense and requires close industry collaboration to fully unlock these opportunities in a safe and responsible way. It’s an exciting time to be part of such a powerful consortium.”

Transport minister Robert Courts added: “The steps we have set out today will ensure our aviation sector remains world-leading and fit for the future, helping to deliver on our ambitious climate change goals and boost high-skilled job opportunities.

“Integrating drones into our transport system will play a huge part in better connecting communities, from potentially delivering vital NHS treatments in isolated communities to capturing high quality aerial imaging for rescue teams.”

Meanwhile, the NHS has announced it is trialling transporting vital chemotherapy supplies through a new drone superhighway between Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight.

Chemotherapy is difficult to transport due to its short shelf. Drones will cut the usual delivery time from 4hrs to 30 mins, saving fuel and money. 

The drones will mean cancer patients living on the Isle of Wight who often need to travel mainland for treatment will be able to access treatment on the island.

NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard said: “Delivering chemo by drone is another extraordinary development for cancer patients and shows how the NHS will stop at nothing to ensure people get the treatment they need as promptly as possible – while also cutting costs and carbon emissions.”

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