A police officer carries a parcel delivered by drone before delivering it to an employee of the front line hospital in North Carolina.
True to its roots, North Carolina is once again “First in Flight”. On Wednesday, state-based Novant Health launched America’s first emergency drone operation in partnership with Zipline – a drone delivery unicorn best known for its work in African countries like Ghana and Rwanda. The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has granted Novant Health a Part 107 emergency waiver to start operations, which is launched as part of the pilot aircraft integration program without Pilot (IPP) from the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT). The operation provides contactless distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE) and essential medical supplies to front-line medical teams in the Charlotte metropolitan area of North Carolina.
The new operation marks the first ongoing FAA-approved long-range logistics flights of drones and the first time that ongoing logistics-drone flights have been approved to operate in Class D controlled airspace, where all air traffic is actively managed by the FAA. . Novant Health, which operates 15 hospitals and nearly 700 sites in the southeastern United States, said the operation could prove revolutionary in uses such as testing, drug testing and vaccine distribution, d ‘Especially since the Covid-19 pandemic continues to unfold.
“Novant Health has long been at the forefront of leveraging technology to improve the way healthcare is delivered to our patients,” said Angela Yochem, Executive Vice President and Director of Digital and of technology at Novant Health. “The Covid-19 pandemic has asked us to be even more agile and innovative in the way we solve complex challenges. Accelerating our medical drone transportation capacity is just one example of how we are pioneering in the healthcare industry, which is known for their resistance to change. We are very grateful to the FAA and DOT of North Carolina for their help in speeding up the process during this unprecedented period. “
A key distribution channel
Zipline, which has partnered with Novant Health, will provide drone flight services under an agreement with Novant Health, supported by additional agreements between Novant Health, Zipline and NCDOT. The emergency drone processing center, adjacent to the Novant Health logistics center in Kannapolis, North Carolina, will launch Zipline drones to distribute Novant Health essential medical products to its hospitals in the region.
“We are probably engaged in a long-term fight against Covid-19,” said Zipline CEO Keller Rinaudo in a press release. “The use of contactless drone logistics will be an important tool in this effort. The work underway here in North Carolina will provide the rest of the country with a blueprint to build the most resilient and responsive health care system possible . “
Two initial routes have been approved by the FAA for launching operations. The service will begin with flights to the Novant Health Huntersville medical center and will expand into later phases. Flights to the original facilities will vary from 20 to 30 miles round trip. Before the launch of this operation, logistics drone flights in the United States ranged from 500 feet to a mile and a half apart. Zipline’s drones have a round-trip range of over 100 miles, making them capable of delivering medical supplies from the Novant Health logistics center to more than 30 additional Novant Health locations after approval of additional routes by the FAA.
The drones take off and land at the emergency drone processing center, requiring no additional infrastructure at the Novant Health facilities they serve. Deliveries are made from the sky, the drone descending to a safe height above the ground and dropping a box of parachute medical products at a designated location. Drones can carry nearly four pounds of cargo, flying up to 80 miles an hour, even in strong wind and rain.
Over the next two years, the partnership plans to expand beyond emergency operations in the Charlotte area for regular commercial operations, subject to approval under FAA Part 135 rules, to serve health facilities and ultimately patient homes across the state. “I hope this project and others like this can help reduce the pressure on our medical supply chains,” said North Carolina Secretary of Transportation Eric Boyette said in a press release. . “We are living in an unprecedented situation, and we are going to need innovative solutions like this to help us overcome it.”
Zipline has twice placed on the CNBC Disruptor 50 list, the latest to rank 39th in 2019. The 2020 Disruptor 50 list will be released on June 16.