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Coronavirus: Drones to deliver NHS supplies to Isle of Wight

Drones will be used to carry medical supplies from Hampshire to the Isle of Wight, the government has announced.

Grant Shapps, Secretary of State for Transport, said a planned trial of the technology would be brought forward and begin next week.

In March, the government pledged £8m to fund a trial of drone deliveries.

But Mr Shapps said there was an "urgent need" to begin the trial sooner than planned.

The trial will use a petrol-fuelled Windracers Ultra fixed-wing drone, capable of carrying 100kg for up to 1,000km (621 miles). However, initially the drone will not carry its maximum payload.

The Department for Transport said the drone would fly autonomously along a fixed route between Lee-on-Solent in Hampshire and Binstead on the Isle of Wight.

However, the route has not yet been approved by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and the trial cannot start without permission.

The government expects about four flights to be made a day, depending on the needs of the NHS.

A spokeswoman told the BBC that the flight would take around ten minutes, significantly reducing delivery times between the Isle of Wight and mainland.

After goods have been dropped off at the airfield, they will be delivered to St Mary's hospital on the Isle of Wight by road.

Future plans

In March, the government gave £28m of funding to Solent Transport to help it create a "future transport zone" and test new ideas.

That funding included over £8m for the company and the University of Southampton to develop the UK's first unmanned traffic-management system (UTM) to integrate drone flights into normal air traffic control.

The NHS delivery trial will operate without this UTM, but the Department for Transport said the project still aims to deliver the system.

A "temporary danger area" that will separate the drone from other air traffic is being set up for 90 days.

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