Globally, the medical drone market size is expected to grow to USD 4.68 billion by 2032, a 17.9% growth rate from its value of USD 1.25 billion in 2023. Commercially, drone deliveries are gaining ground, with package deliveries growing by more than 80% from 2021 to 2022.

In this article, we assess the rise of the use of drones in healthcare logistics in Europe and what it takes to make medical drone deliveries a long-term solution to aid pharmaceutical last mile deliveries, increase efficiency, reduce carbon emissions and improve patient outcomes.

Medical Drone Landscape in Europe

In 2022, the European Commission adopted the European Drone Strategy 2.0 which outlined the strategy for the growth of the European drone market and the eventual implementation of large-scale commercial drone operation across the continent. The strategy covers drone services that are to become part of European life by 2030 including emergency services, mapping, imaging, inspection and surveillance and urgent delivery of medicines and biological samples; as well as the operation of air taxis for the transport of passengers.

The table below highlights some of the recent developments in the drone delivery market in some of the leading economies in Europe:

CountryDrone Delivery Developments/Test Flights
United KingdomIn 2023, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) invited organisations to participate in a sandbox to test beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) concepts for drone deliveries. The sandbox experiment allows the CAA to make decisions on airspace concernsairspace concerns , and to meet the strategic objectives set out in the Airspace Modernisation Strategy. Currently there are six drone projects that have been chosen for trials.
GermanyWingcopter, a German-based healthcare logistics startup have partnered with the Frankfurt University of Applied Sciences to provide transport of medical supplies, groceries and other consumer goods to residents of two remote German districts in Michelstadt, Hesse. Under the project, residents may choose between five different merchants including a pharmacy, a supermarket and a DIY store.
Italy and FranceCerba Healthcare, a medical diagnosis company in 2023 successfully conducted drone-enabled test flights for the transport of biological samples.
SwedenDrone devices carrying life-saving defibrillators, assist those suffering from cardiac arrest.

Are drones really the fastest option for healthcare deliveries?

The average speed of delivery drones is between 30 to 60 miles per hour. Companies like Amazon are testing drones which can fly at least 40 meters in the air to deliver medications for flu, asthma and pneumonia in 60 minutes or less. The real merit of drones as a delivery method would depend largely on the type of treatment delivered and how timely it is required by the patient. Since drones can travel distances without obstacles like traffic congestion, the argument is that for very urgent and time-sensitive cargo, it is an appropriate choice.

An example would be the delivery of AED devices for patients suffering cardiac arrest. In one such study, it was found that drones arrived before ambulances did, in two-thirds of cases. The delivery was completed with a median time benefit of 3 minutes and 14 seconds, the crucial few minutes during which the AED device was able to be fitted onto the patient.

The E-Drone project, a three-year research project funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) evaluated the potential for drones to be used to make healthcare deliveries using NHS case studies. The project covered pathology collection rounds in which pathology samples were transported using a van to and from GP clinics to pathology hubs.

Over 300,000 tests are performed every working day and collections are made in rural and low-density areas, sometimes for very few samples. The challenges with van transport include patients having to travel to hospital to provide their samples, and the rigidity of van routes which impact flexibility to meet changes in sample demand (such as late running clinics or when there are no samples to collect). Drones could provide a more efficient, fast and safe way to transport samples, which have a maximum transit time of two hours.

What about costs?

Despite the perks of using drones, their cost-benefit on a large scale remains to be seen. While they can improve speed of deliveries and potentially make medicines and treatments more accessible in hard-to-reach areas, it may cost twice as much per delivery to facilitate transport of goods on a large scale, factoring in the labour costs required to make this model work. McKinsey estimates that single-package drone delivery has a direct operating cost of approximately USD13.50, compared with costs of an electric car (USD9.40), electric van (USD11.00) and an internal combustion engine (ICE) van (USD11.60) for the same.

The estimates state that labour costs represent about 95% of the total cost of drone delivery, making it more expensive than an electric car or an ICE performing single deliveries or any type of vehicle doing multiple deliveries on one journey. The recommendation is to eventually be able to operate about 20 drones per operator (currently, in most countries, only one drone per operator is allowed), but this would require advancement in drone operation technology, higher levels of automation, and regulatory frameworks surrounding airspace usage.

Drone Infographic

Source: McKinsey 

The above estimates are not industry-specific, however they provide an idea of what is expected to make a national or international drone delivery network possible. In the case of healthcare deliveries, it is more complicated due to the sensitive nature of the goods being transported. Biological samples must be transported at specific temperatures to maintain their efficacy and integrity. Temperature excursions, even slight ones, could render a sample or treatment unusable. Another issue would be the cost to the patient, if drones are used on a larger scale.

Some questions to consider:

  • What finance model would be the least onerous on patients?
  • If drones are used even in remote and difficult-to-access areas, how will these be financed and how often can they be carried out?
  • What model would be most cost-effective for drone operators, governments and healthcare providers?

How much carbon emissions can be reduced using drones?

A study on the potential benefits drone-assisted truck deliveries found that compared with traditional truck delivery, drone-assisted delivery reduced carbon emissions by 24.90%, reduced total cost by 22.13%, and shortened delivery time by 20.65%. This differs to direct drone deliveries, which do not involve trucks at all.

Do fossil-fuelled truck logistics make a difference to the level of GHG emissions?

In the state of California, U.S, truck delivery of a small parcel would result in about 0.92kg of GHG emissions, while the drone delivery of the same would result in about 0.42kg of GHG emissions. That comes up to a 54% reduction in emissions when transporting packages in that state. The use of small drones was better than any truck or van, regardless of diesel fuel, gasoline, natural gas or even electricity.

Drones are also susceptible to the weather. Studies have shown that direct delivery drones need 15.8% more energy than battery electric vehicles (BEVs) on an average windy day and need 15% more energy than a diesel truck on a very windy day.

All in all, the large-scale use of drones and its impact on carbon emissions is still unclear. For the moment it appears drone deliveries are only better for carbon emissions when they transport small parcels over short distances. Larger drones would require more kilowatt-hours to travel a mile, so the carbon intensity of electricity needs to be considered.


Drone deliveries have their advantages for the transport of essential healthcare items, but their large-scale viability and efficacy need to be reassessed. With further automation and developments in airspace regulation frameworks, drone deliveries could be the answer to reduced carbon emissions and more efficient transport of precious drugs and treatments. At this stage, the transport of medical goods in rural areas for low-volume deliveries seem to be most viable and cost-effective approach.

Intelsius Collaboration with CAELUS

Intelsius are part of a 16-member consortium for the CAELUS project, a drone transport project that has been working to develop a virtual model of the proposed medical distribution network which will facilitate the transport of medication, organs, blood samples and other medical supplies throughout Scotland. The drone delivery network will connect hospitals, pathology laboratories, distribution centres and GP surgeries across Scotland to allow more equitable access to essential medical supplies for urban and rural remote areas.

Recently, flight trials were conducted between Glasgow Airport and NHS Golden Jubilee in Clydebank. The trials help test the safety of future drone flights and are essential for increasing the scale of the project and eventually integrating its existence into commercial aircraft operations.

Project CAELUS is led by ASG Airports, funded by Innovate UK’s Future Flight Challenge, and scheduled to run until June 2024. Click here for more information.

ORCA Drone

As part of its contribution to the CAELUS consortium, Intelsius designed and developed ORCA Drone, a high-performance multi-use temperature-controlled packaging system equipped with real-time temperature and location tracking. The system is specially designed to transport medical drone deliveries, be it pharmaceuticals, blood products, pathology samples or vaccines.

Key Features:

  • Temperature ranges from -78°C, -25°C to -15°C, +2°C to +8°C, +15°C to +25°C and +20°C to +24°C.
  • Available in a range of sizes
  • Equipped with onboard loggers for real-time visibility of variables including internal temperature, external temperature, exact location, orientation and battery status
  • Designed for multiple uses, reducing waste and carbon footprint
  • Provides a minimum of 48 hours of temperature protection.

Drone Packaging Solution

Get in Touch

If you would like to know more about ORCA Drone or how our other temperature-controlled or sample transport packaging solutions can support your drone delivery, reach out to and our customer service representatives will be happy to assist you.

Twitter Icon Share on linkedin