Europe's first drone to transport human tissue over urban area takes flight in Antwerp

For the very first time in Europe, a drone was used to transport human tissue over an urban area between different hospital campuses in the Belgian city of Antwerp on Tuesday. The drone took a test flight between Ziekenhuis Netwerk Antwerpen (ZNA) and GZA Ziekenhuizen, two hospital networks that intend to merge in the future. The hospitals are preparing for the new aviation legislation that will enter into force in 2023 and will better regulate the use of drones.

The tissue was flown from ZNA Middelheim to GZA Ziekenhuizen's Augustinus campus on Tuesday. "Transport by drone is faster, more reliable, more environmentally friendly and cheaper than road transport," a press release reads. The flight is a European first, because the drone was allowed to fly above the city and outside the pilot's sight for the first time. Drone airline Helicus carried out the flight. Test flights like this one are intended to further develop the procedural side and share experiences with the European bodies that are currently preparing the next set of legislation. The additional legislation will come into force in 2023.

"Today we are testing tissue transport, but there are many more possibilities with other samples, blood and medication," says GZA Ziekenhuizen CEO Willeke Dijkhoffz.

"As we want to be ready when the new aviation legislation comes into effect in 2023, we are already testing this promising technology today. The drones also take some traffic off the road, contributing to the quality of life in the city."

"Even more than in other sectors, on-time deliveries are of vital importance to a hospital," adds ZNA president Els van Doesberg. "The absence of traffic jams in the air ensures reliable flight times."

As only strong gusts of wind and freezing weather can affect the drone, it will be operational 95 per cent of the time.

Tuesday's test flight is part of the expansion of a central anatomy pathology lab in ZNA Middelheim. By analysing all samples in a central lab, the most suitable pathologist can examine the tissues, ensuring greater quality and efficiency than in the past. In time, 900 annual taxi rides between ZNA and GZA hospital sites will be replaced by drone flights. 





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