Drone flights could one day deliver life-saving supplies to NC barrier islands

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HATTERAS, NC (WWAY) — One of the unique characteristics of North Carolina’s Outer Banks is the isolation the barrier islands offer from the mainland.

During emergency situations when travel to the islands by ferry isn’t available, drones could help deliver life-saving supplies and equipment.

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On Thursday, the NCDOT Division of Aviation, NCDOT Ferry Division and U.S.-based drone logistics company Volansi, completed two successful trial flights of a delivery drone from Hatteras to Ocracoke Island.

“This is a tremendous first step in better connecting Ocracoke Island to potentially life-saving supplies and equipment,” said Secretary of Transportation Eric Boyette. “Today, Ocracoke Island is accessible only by plane or by boat. What we’re working on here is an entirely new, third method of serving the needs of Ocracoke’s people.”

During yesterday’s test, a drone took off from the Hatteras Village ferry dock and landed at the South Dock on the north end of Ocracoke Island. The eight-mile round trip flights average only 18 minutes in flight time.

To simulate a real post-storm emergency delivery operation, both flights carried small payloads. The first delivered a small survival kit, space blankets and a chocolate muffin to Ocracoke while the second delivered bottles of water.

“This was just a small trial, but we hope to continue scaling this up to larger payloads and longer flights,” said NCDOT Unmanned Aerial Systems Program Manager Ben Spain. “Long-term, we could see deliveries coming to Ocracoke all the way from the mainland.”