In a UK first, Argyll and Bute Council is teaming up with leading drone specialists Skyports to trial the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) in delivering school meals to pupils in remote areas.
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. All P1-P5 pupils are entitled to free school meals, as are all pupils in early years as part of Scotland’s 1,140 hours a year of childcare scheme.
Argyll and Bute is Scotland’s second largest local authority with 23 inhabited islands, the most of any UK authority. While the majority of schools have kitchens on site preparing meals, the provision of school meals to some rural and remote schools currently relies on traditional methods of transport including vans, taxis and ferries, which can be affected 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.
Councillor 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 medical supplies to our islands and now we want to make sure all pupils have access to healthy school meals.”
The trials are part of plans for the council to create an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (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.
UK Government Minister for Scotland Iain Stewart, added, 'Pupils can't learn and play on empty stomachs, so the ability to deliver nutritious school meals 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.'