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Company will use Kannapolis as base to deliver medical supplies by drone

KANNAPOLIS — Novant Health on Wednesday announced the launch of America’s first emergency drone logistics operation by a hospital for its pandemic response.

The launch was made possible through a partnership with Zipline, a national scale, on-demand logistics service that will provide drone flight services. The company’s fulfillment center will be located next to the Novant Health Logistics Center in Kannapolis. A news release said the site was provided by Stewart-Haas Racing. 

Service will start with flights to Novant Health’s hospital in Huntersville.

The operation provides contactless distribution of personal protective equipment and critical medical supplies to Novant Health frontline medical teams in the Charlotte, North Carolina, metro area. A news release said the operation helps position Novant Health, which operates 15 hospitals and nearly 700 locations in the southeastern United States, to adapt quickly to the evolving pandemic and could lead to innovative uses such as testing, drug trials, and vaccine distribution in the future. 

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration granted Novant Health a Part 107 waiver to begin operation, which is being launched as part of the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s Unmanned Aircraft System Integration Pilot Program. The operation will provide ongoing drone logistics flights in Class-D controlled airspace, where all air traffic is actively managed by the FAA, under a part 107 waiver issued to a major U.S. healthcare system

“Novant Health has long been at the forefront of leveraging technology to enhance how health care is delivered to our patients,” said Angela Yochem, executive vice president and chief digital and technology officer of Novant Health. “The COVID-19 pandemic has tasked us with being even more nimble and innovative in how we solve complex challenges. Fast-tracking our medical drone transport capability is just one example of how we’re pioneering in the health care industry, which is known for being resistant to change. We are very grateful to the FAA and North Carolina’s DOT for their help to expedite the process during this unprecedented time.” 

Zipline CEO Keller Rinaudo said the company has been hard at work helping other countries respond to the pandemic.

“We’re likely in for a long-term fight against COVID-19. Using contactless drone logistics will be an important tool in that effort,” Rinaudo said. “The work underway here in North Carolina will provide the rest of the country with a blueprint for how to build the most resilient and responsive health care system possible.” 

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