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Drone passes COVID humanitarian delivery test with flying colors

Posted 1/20/21

The COVID-19 Humanitarian UAS (Unmanned Aircraft Systems) Response Partnership has announced the conclusion of its latest operational phase: multi-day flight operations and evaluations of two …

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Drone passes COVID humanitarian delivery test with flying colors


The COVID-19 Humanitarian UAS (Unmanned Aircraft Systems) Response Partnership has announced the conclusion of its latest operational phase: multi-day flight operations and evaluations of two separate use cases to prepare for potential wider-scale deployment.

UAS commonly referred to as “drones,” offers unique solutions to the many challenges faced by our health and public safety agencies during the COVID-19 crisis, said officials participating in the CHURP partnership.

“As we battle the COVID-19 virus on all fronts, utilizing another weapon in our arsenal can only strengthen our attack,” said Oneida County Executive Anthony J. Picente Jr. “Oneida County’s UAS Test Site at Griffiss continues to lead the industry in major developments and this partnership shows just how innovative our collaborative efforts are.”

The partnership was formed over nine months ago by Emergent 121 Consulting and Akin Gump, LLP. The most recent operation included collaboration among UAS, health and public safety leaders. The project began on Thursday, Jan. 14, and ended with a local media demonstration on Saturday, Jan. 16, at Upstate University Hospital and the Central New York (CNY) Biotech Accelerator in Syracuse. 

As part of this effort, the partnership (CHURP) worked to give public health officials the technology for public safety awareness, public address capability, contactless delivery, and other solutions that enhance response speed and efficiency while also significantly reducing personnel requirements and potential exposures.

“It has been a privilege to leverage diverse talents and resources while building consensus between agencies,” said Nancy Chrisman, CEO, Emergent 121 Consulting, sponsor and facilitator of the project. “We are eager to further our testing, aggregate our successes, and scale this humanitarian mission to combat COVID-19 effectively.”

DroneUp, the drone solutions provider for the CHURP team, conducted training, testing, and evaluating UAS use cases. DroneUp is the first drone organization to operate with a Federal Aviation Administrations (FAA) Section 107.39 Operation Over People Waiver, allowing flight over non-participating persons and moving vehicles to support the drone delivery of COVID-19 test kits anywhere in the United States.

“The scale of partnership and success we’ve had in these efforts to aid in our national COVID response is encouraging,” said Tom Walker, CEO of DroneUp.

“With expert representation from every stakeholder group, we are demonstrating the first of many ways UAS will tangibly improve the way we react to public safety and health concerns,” Walker added.

DroneUp collaborated with NUAIR to provide drone pilot training at the New York UAS Test Site at Griffiss Airport. NUAIR’s extensive knowledge of local airspace and restrictions, coupled with years of testing at the test site and advanced drone operations within New York’s 50-mile UAS Traffic Management Corridor, helped make these real-life use cases a success.

“The ability to quickly and safely transport pharmaceutical items is a game-changer,” said Tony Basile, COO at NUAIR. “In the healthcare world, where every minute counts, the collaborative work we’ve done here showcases the viability, economic advantages, and life-saving potential of contactless drone deliveries.”

The first use case was the UAS transport of COVID-19 testing kits safely and quickly between facilities on the SUNY Upstate University Hospital Campus in downtown Syracuse. After testing operational procedures and a comprehensive review about COVID-19 related drone delivery, officials learned how to minimize potential exposure to health personnel and public members.

The team also exercised real-time airspace deconfliction protocols when an air ambulance flight landed with a patient at the hospital’s heliport.

The second use case utilized three UAS in support of New York State University Police at Upstate Medical University to monitor the medical delivery operation described above and identify any potential safety risks on the ground.

The information gathered will be used to support future scalable operations for public safety agencies in response to COVID-19 and other emergencies, officials said.

Due to the overall criticality of first responders and their heightened risk of exposure, both internally and externally, limiting this risk and efficiently allocating resources is vital in maintaining the general availability of local, state, and federal emergency services.

UAS proficiency in aerial scene assessment ensures adequate social distancing and that only the necessary equipment and staff are dispatched.

“We are grateful that CHURP chose Syracuse and the SUNY system to validate this vital technology,” said Dr. Robert Corona, CEO of Upstate University Hospital.

“We are very excited to be the first-ever hospital…in fact leading the first event ever where this FAA certificate of authorization for flying over a population and traffic was used. This was a wild dream of mine from back in my days as pathology chair. Our Upstate team, along with incredible private industry partners, made it happen. We moved a COVID test kit today from the hospital to our molecular diagnostics lab in the CNY Biotech Accelerator. In the future, drones will be seamlessly integrated into our hospital and health system network throughout CNY and eventually beyond,” he added.


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