In what will be a first for regional Australia, planning is underway for  pharmacy chain TerryWhite Chemmart to trial the delivery of medicines via remotely operated drones in the coming months.

The project, which is being undertaken in partnership with Melbourne-based company Swoop Aero and Australia’s largest healthcare wholesaler, Symbion, has been in development for over a year and will soon commence trial flights from the town of Goondiwindi, located on the Queensland/New South Wales border.

TerryWhite Chemmart Goondiwindi pharmacist Lucy Walker said she is delighted their community has been chosen to trial the delivery of medicines by drone.

“Many of my customers live on farms or small towns in outlying areas. In some cases a visit to our pharmacy to collect their vital medicines may mean a three-hour round trip,” Ms Walker said.

“With the ability to service people within a 130 km range of Goondiwindi, this drone trial will provide enormous convenience and peace of mind for many of our customers.

“Importantly, we will learn a great deal from the trial, what works well, and what may need improving. We can use these learnings to not only fine tune the service to our community but also share with other regional TerryWhite Chemmart pharmacies around Australia who may be looking to investigate a drone delivery service.”

Pharmacy owner Lucy Walker with Swoop Aero drone

The project is being funded by EBOS Group, the parent entity of Symbion, and underlines the company’s commitment to ensuring all Australians can access medicines no matter where they live and whatever their circumstances.

“Not only is this a very convenient option for the delivery of medicines for those living outside of ready access to their pharmacy but, as we saw during the terrible bushfires in Australia last summer, there were cases where road access to some homes and towns was completely shut off,” Symbion CEO Brett Barons said.

“To have a drone to provide deliveries of medicines could be of critical importance in situations where accessibility is limited.”

Eric Peck, CEO at Swoop Aero, said the company already has significant experience internationally in facilitating similar drone medicine delivery projects, and will bring those learnings and new innovations to the first Australian trial. They have operated medical drone delivery networks in Malawi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mozambique and Vanuatu to date.

“When we’re dealing with medicines, security and safety are obviously key considerations and Swoop Aero is firmly committed to ensuring that safety is our number one priority. That is why we have designed a full aviation system around our drone technology, which is unique in its ability to scale.”

“The drone will fly in and out of a central point in Goondiwindi with the flight path fully automated and approved by CASA [Australia’s aviation regulator], deliver the customers products, then return to base ready for its next job. After a little training, it is very easy to operate”.

Highlighting the ease of augmenting traditional transport methods with drone logistics, Mr Peck added, “our experience overseas shows no disruption to communities as a result of transitioning to drone-based logistics.

“Our aircraft do not have on board cameras filming in flight but are instead guided by a three tiered communications system consisting of mobile internet, satellite communications and Data Link. The sound of one of our drones taking off is similar to a bus starting its engine, and lasts for only up to around 10 seconds until the plane reaches cruising altitude, at which point during normal cruise flight the noise is imperceptible over normal background noise.”

Reaching speeds of 115 km p/h, the drone can withstand extremes in weather including 50kmp/h winds and heavy rain. It has a range of 130 km on a single charge, ensuring it can reach anyone living within that radius of Goondiwindi.

“We can experience extreme weather conditions in Queensland especially during the summer storm season with occasional flooding and road closures. The drone will provide a safe, convenient option to deliver medicines and most importantly ensure people in regional areas are serviced just as well as those living in town. I’m really excited for the residents of Goondiwindi and the surrounding region”, Ms Walker said.

Swoop Aero is currently working with CASA and the relevant State Authorities to ensure all requirements are met, with the launch of the service remaining subject to regulatory approvals.

About TerryWhite Chemmart 
TerryWhite Chemmart is one of Australia’s largest retail pharmacy networks and a leader in the delivery of frontline healthcare. With more than 450 community pharmacies across Australia, we are committed to ensuring every Australian has easier access to pharmacists and expert health advice every day. TerryWhite Chemmart provides high-quality, accessible and cost-effective community-based health care services and programs.

About Lucy Walker Pharmacy
Lucy Walker owns and operates the 2017 Guild Pharmacy of the Year, Lucy Walker Pharmacy which is located in Goondiwindi, 4 hours west of Brisbane. The pharmacy employs over 20 locals. Lucy has lived in Goondiwindi for 12 years, operated the pharmacy for 9 years and is the Queensland Guild Branch Committee representative for the South West Queensland and has participated in panels to encourage women into pharmacy ownership. She participates on the advisory board of TerryWhite Chemmart and was a 2018 Churchill Fellow, looking at innovative pharmacy services around the globe.

About Symbion
Symbion is a national wholesaler of healthcare services and products with over 3500 retail pharmacy customers and 1000 hospital customers across Australia. As a market-leading business, Symbion is committed to investing in the world’s best technologies, to increase efficiency for its customers and respond to the future demands of Australia’s healthcare landscape. Symbion’s operations are proudly backed by EBOS Group – the largest human and animal healthcare company in Australasia.

Source: Press Release

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