The UK’s Civil Aviation Authority has given permission to drone operator Skyports for the use of the drone flights following a test trial last year — and the mini aircraft this week began shipping supplies between National Health Service (NHS) facilities in Argyll and the island of Bute. Initially, five remote NHS facilities will be linked by the drones.

It takes up to 36 hours for a vehicle to make the trip by road and ferry. As the crow flies, however, the distance is much less, and the drones can slash some journey times to 15 minutes. Medical cargo can be carried up to 64km.

The Skyports drones can carry up to 3kgs at a time – small but vital loads.

“This project underscores the viability of drone technology as a practical way to move goods,” said Skyports chief executive Duncan Walker.

The project is being assisted by funds from the European and UK space agencies.

NHS staff are using the on-demand service to order up Covid-19 test kits, medicines, and other equipment compact enough to fit the drones’ payloads.

It’s not the first time drones have been employed in the fight against Covid-19. As well as delivering critical supplies during the pandemic, drones have been adapted for use by French police to monitor adherence to Covid-19 restrictions and record public demonstrations – uses that have been criticized by a French privacy watchdog.

They have also been used to disinfect streets in Dubai and to deliver Covid tests in El Paso, Texas.