In a UK first, Argyll and Bute Council is teaming up with drone specialists Skyports to trial the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) in delivering school meals.

Flying from Oban Airport, the trial involves delivering meals freshly prepared in Park Primary School in Oban to Lochnell Primary, which is 1.5km away.

Argyll and Bute is Scotland’s second largest local authority with 23 inhabited islands. While the majority of schools have kitchens on site preparing meals, the provision of school meals to some remote schools relies on vans, taxis and ferries, which can be affected by the weather conditions.

The use of drones would help the council to deliver meals to all remote and island schools reducing current delivery times and costs, and help contingency planning in emergencies. The drones also offer an alternative carbon free mode of transport, as they are fully electric.

The trials are part of the council’s plans to create a UAV Innovations logistics Hub at Oban Airport. The council received £170,000 of UK Government Community Renewal funding to create a detailed planning application with full design and costings in order to bid to the UK Levelling Up Fund. New funding will enable the construction of the hub by March 2025.

Cllr Robin Currie, leader of Argyll and Bute Council, said: ‘We are committed to connecting remote and island communities to vital mainland services. The possibilities of using UAV’s to improve services to our communities is quite staggering. Argyll and Bute is the perfect location to test the efficiency of drone technology. We have already seen how drones can deliver essential media supplies to our islands and now we want to make sure all pupils have access to healthy school meals.

‘This is just the start of what is possible using drones as we look to create the UK’s first UAV logistics and training Hub at Oban Airport. From maintaining our assets including roads and bridges to inspecting offshore wind farms, developing the use of drones will help develop skills, create jobs and attract further and investment to the area.’

UK Government Minister for Scotland Iain Stewart commented: ‘Pupils can't learn and play on empty stomachs, so the ability to deliver nutritious school dinners to remote and island schools in a faster, more cost effective and reliable way is hugely welcome.

‘The use of drones has massive potential for improving public services for the region's communities and UK Government funding is spurring these innovations as part of our £2bn for levelling up across Scotland.’

Alex Brown, head of Drone Deliveries at Skyports, said: ‘With this latest partnership to transport school meals by drone, we are building on our 2020/2021 efforts to further demonstrate the broad use cases for UAV delivery applications in rural locations. Initial flights, carried out using one of our Swoop Aero Kookaburra III aircraft, will enable us to complete important proof of concept and feasibility trials. While the aircraft has a maximum payload of 3kg – clearly not sufficient for feeding a classroom of hungry students – this is an important stage in the development of deliveries of this type. The learnings from this early stage of the project will help to pave the way for wider-scale operations.

‘Argyll and Bute Council’s readiness to explore how drone services can improve and enhance the lives of people across the local authority, combined with Skyports’ expertise and hundreds of flight hours in the region, makes this an exciting project with infinite benefits.’