CGIFN Sparrow test flight to Georgina Island

By: Mike Anderson

A drone-delivery pilot project, which provides contact-free delivery of personal protective equipment (PPE) and COVID-19 testing supplies to the Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation (CGIFN), could be expanded to deliver non-medical supplies, including everyday items like health-care products and groceries.

The pilot project, which started last summer, is operated by Drone Delivery Canada and funded by Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) in partnership with CGIFN, Air Canada Cargo and the Pontiac Group.

Daily test flights from Virginia Beach Marina to Georgina Island, even in inclement weather, have shown that drone technology can successfully supply remote aboriginal communities with essential medical supplies, including insulin.

With Sparrow drone flights taking less than five minutes to complete, the pilot project has gained support from many of the band’s elders, who remember a time when access to life-saving medicines was not always a given.

“Once as a child I was very ill with pneumonia, my uncle Stewart McCue took my grandfather’s hand sleigh and walked to Sibbald’s Point where he met Dr. Noble. Stewart then pulled the doctor over the ice to the island with the much-needed penicillin. With the arrival of the drone project, the Sparrow will be able to delivery medications to our community when crossing becomes difficult,” said Susan Hoeg, a band elder.

Lorna Fitzpatrick, who has been the island’s Community Health Nurse for more than 20 years, said she’s happy that there is a rapid, contact-free way to get PPE and testing supplies to the island, especially during a lockdown.

But she said there are still some kinks to work out, including the logistics of getting swabs to labs for testing.

Still, she can see the how a drone-delivery service could help more remote northern communities.

“It would be very useful for them, because they don’t always have regular flights in. And if it was up North, the drone flights would probably go directly to the hospital. So, it would be possible to send swabs for testing,” she said.

With the pilot project set to run through 2021, the Band Council is now looking at other uses for the drones.

“It really had a medical focus at the beginning and now there are other ideas being considered,” Dylan Big Canoe, Communications Coordinator for CGIFN, said.

“The main focus was to avoid person to person contact with the pandemic ongoing, but members are excited that the drones could be used for other things.”

He said that drones could help supply the island during the two to three-week period in spring when the ice road is no longer safe and the ferry is still not operating.

“When the weather warms-up, testing will begin for supplies,” he said.

However, cargo capacities would probably have to be increased to make it feasible.

Right now, the pilot project is using Sparrow drones, which have a cargo capacity of just 4.5 kgs (10lbs).

However, according to Michael Zahra, CEO of Drone Delivery Canada, the Sparrow could be replaced with either the Robin, which has a maximum 11.5 kg payload, or the Condor, which can carry up to 180 kgs or nearly 400lbs.

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