Pupils in a remote part of Scotland could soon be tucking into school meals delivered by drone following technology trials.

Children in Argyle and Bute are expected to be the first in the UK to benefit from lift-off lunches after the local council teamed up with leading drone specialists Skyports.

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.

The unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) 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.

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.

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.

The trials are part of ambitious 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.  

The plans build on the £70m Argyll and Bute Rural Growth Deal proposal, which includes plans for a ‘vertiport‘ take-off and landing facility at the airport.

UK Government minister for Scotland Iain Stewart said: “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.”

Alex Brown, head of drone deliveries at Skyports, said: “With this latest partnership to transport school meals by drone, we are building on our 2020/2021 efforts to further demonstrate the broad use cases for UAV delivery applications in rural locations. Initial flights, carried out using one of our Swoop Aero Kookaburra III aircraft, will enable us to complete important proof of concept and feasibility trials. While the aircraft has a maximum payload of 3kg – clearly not sufficient for feeding a classroom of hungry students – this is an important stage in the development of deliveries of this type. The learnings from this early stage of the project will help to pave the way for wider-scale operations.

“Argyll and Bute Council’s readiness to explore how drone services can improve and enhance the lives of people across the local authority, combined with Skyports’ expertise and hundreds of flight hours in the region, makes this an exciting project with infinite benefits.”

Skyports will demonstrate the use of drones at the Oban Airport open day on 25 June.