A three-year initiative by the SA National Blood Service (SANBS) has come into full swing with the issuance of a Remote Operator Certificate (ROC) by the SA Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) – believed to be the first so-called drone license delivery in the country.
An apt comment on the ROC came from digital publication Drones.R.Africa which noted that every ROC issued by SACAA for RPAS (Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems) is cause for celebration, signifying “a massive victory” for the industry. local drone industry.
“This is different. This is for the delivery of emergency medical services. This saves lives,” the publication’s producer, Jerry Davison, proudly wrote.
SANBS’ first steps towards unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) flight certification began in 2019 when it embarked on Project BloodWing. The intention was to deliver blood to remote areas of the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.
“Congratulations to SANBS for being granted the drone license (ROC) by SACAA to deliver blood and essential medical samples using drones,” said drone service company Ntsu Aviation, which helped the service in the certification process.
“SANBS launched Project BloodWing in May 2019 with the intention of delivering blood to the remote areas of KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape. In August 2021, SANBS appointed Ntsu Aviation Solutions to advise and assist in the process of SACAA compliance and accreditation.
“Well done Ntsu and the SANBS drone team. This is the first approval issued by SACAA for the delivery of drones to South Africa.
The blood transfusion service has selected the German drone manufacturer and solution provider Quantum Systems, which offers the Tron F9 drone, with a flight range of 100 km and a speed of up to 180 km/h. It can carry four units of blood weighing 2 kg and can carry other payloads such as blood samples on return flights. This, in turn, can help the SANBS find blood matches.
The teams at SANBS and Quantum Systems have worked hard to create a drone perfectly suited for rapid specialist medical delivery.
Then SANBS CEO Dr. Jonathan Louw was heavily invested in the project from the start.
“We had a discussion with the Ministry of Health about how to help people in rural areas and the drone project was born,” he said at the launch of Project BloodWing in 2019.
“We believe this will be a milestone in the history of blood transfusion, not just in South Africa, but globally.”
And it was a milestone, reports the UAV trade publication. Even by 2019 standards, South Africa was three or four years too late for the medical drone party it ironically led in 2015, when University of the Witwatersrand Emeritus Professor Barry Mendelow gave a talk at Johannesburg on the research he had been doing for over a decade in partnership with stakeholders including Denel.
This work resulted in the development of the e-Juba, a preliminary proof-of-concept UAV to facilitate transport of microbiological testing samples for tuberculosis patients from 5,000 remote rural clinics to 603 National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS) laboratories. ) Across the country.
Since then, drone logistics companies including Zipline, Wingcopter and Swoop Aero have launched sustained medical logistics operations in DR Congo, Rwanda, Ghana, Nigeria, Malawi and Mozambique; transporting medical supplies and blood to destinations previously impossible to reach by air.
Now, it looks like South Africa is finally on the true take-off of medical drone logistics, with a prototype drone made locally.
The only African country to have done so so far is Madagascar, where AerialMetric has been delivering drugs using a locally-made drone since 2016.
The BVLOS (beyond visual line of sight) license makes SANBS the first in South Africa to be granted this license, prompting Ntsu Aviation to describe it as the most complex drone operation to be approved by SACAA since the promulgation of the drone regulations in 2015. .
As a drone-based healthcare delivery service, SANBS can now use drones to connect remote healthcare facilities for better service delivery; faster and more efficient delivery of much-needed medical supplies to remote or rural health facilities; as well as expediting the delivery of drugs, vaccines and, another example, anti-snakebite toxins.
SA launches the first ROC delivery drone – DRONES.R.AFRICA (dronenews.africa