Skyports Drone Services and Makutu launch water quality trial with Northumbrian Water


Maiden test flights inspecting water quality for Northumbrian Water have been conducted by Skyports Drone Services and Makutu.

Launched as a pilot study to help Northumbrian monitor the quality of river and coastal water, the service combines Skyports’ drone operations and winch technology with Makutu’s water testing solution. 

The tests demonstrate how beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) drone operations can help to automate water quality services by improving access to remote areas, reducing emissions and gathering more data over larger areas faster and cheaper. Currently, data collection requires personnel to manually collect water and return it to a central lab for testing.

Richard Warneford Wastewater director at Northumbrian Water said: “There’s a lot of hard work gone into understanding how UAV technology can be used to collect data efficiently, and these successful test flights have proven the validity of it as part of our huge water quality monitoring programme.  

“We’re proud to be making history with this project and we can’t wait to begin rolling it out officially across the North East – it’s just another step towards having the cleanest rivers and beaches in the country,” Warneford added.

Skyports Drone Services has deployed its Speedbird Aero aircraft for phase one of the flights. The aircraft has been fitted with specialist winch technology which enables the drone to carry Makutu’s water sensor technology. The winch lowers the sensor into the water to collect test samples, with data fed back to Northumbrian Water in “near real-time” for analysis (see picture below).


The drone can collect data from multiple test locations on a single battery charge.

Alex Brown director of Skyports Drone Services said: “Water quality is a hugely important issue in the UK.  The unique solution we’ve developed with Makutu provides water companies with critical real-time data, enabling better monitoring, maintenance, and faster response to issues. With Northumbrian Water alone covering an area of 9,400km2, the potential positive impact to the environment, to field personnel, and to the communities that access these river and coastal locations is enormous.” 

Phase one proof-of-concept flights in Berwick-upon-Tweed, Bishop Auckland and Blyth have focused on testing the combined solution, supported by visual ground observers. The next phase will scale operations and see Skyports undertake remotely operated BVLOS sample collections.

James Sumsion CEO of Makutu added: “The successful test flights represent not just incredible technical innovation but are testament to the power of partnership and forward-thinking in addressing ecological challenges. By harnessing the capabilities of UAV technology, we’re streamlining data collection and analysis paving the way for more informed and rapid decision-making in water course management.”