Royal Mail trials drone deliveries to remote islands

Richard Stuart-Turner
Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Royal Mail has started a two-week trial of scheduled, autonomous flights between Kirkwall and North Ronaldsay in the Orkney Islands, using drones from Windracers to help better connect remote island communities.

UAVs can fly in poor weather conditions, including fog
UAVs can fly in poor weather conditions, including fog

In doing so, Royal Mail said it is taking the first steps towards its goal of developing permanent, reliable, lower emission deliveries for remote communities entirely by an Uncrewed Aerial Vehicle (UAV).

The flight trials, which form part of the Sustainable Aviation Test Environment (SATE) project funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) via the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, will use a large, twin-engine, UK-built UAV named Ultra.

The UAV trials aim to demonstrate how this technology can be used to provide real-life service demands and improve connectivity between remote communities.

The UAV for the Royal Mail trial has been designed, built, and operated by Windracers to carry mail from Kirkwall Airport on the Orkney mainland to North Ronaldsay, a 35-mile flight each way.

The trial will support the community of around 70 people on North Ronaldsay with a service that is expected to be less affected by poor weather, while reducing emissions.

The Ultra UAV can carry 100kg of mail of all shapes and sizes, equivalent to a typical delivery round, enabling the transportation of all mail bound to and from the island community of North Ronaldsay. Letters and parcels will then be delivered in the usual way when they reach the island.

Sarah Moore, local postwoman for North Ronaldsay, said: “It’s really exciting to be involved in this trial. North Ronaldsay is a very remote area of the UK and I’m proud to be involved in an initiative that will help Royal Mail to do all we can to keep all areas of the UK connected.”

If the trial is successful, the technology will be considered by Royal Mail to support postmen and postwomen in delivering to very remote areas and addresses across the UK.

UAVs can fly in poor weather conditions, including fog, because they are uncrewed, and unlike boat services they are not affected by tides.

The latest drone trial, the third that Royal Mail has taken part in over the last year, will also test the environmental benefits of this technology, as part of the company’s continued drive to reduce emissions associated with its operations.

The company said it already has the lowest reported CO2e emissions per parcel among major UK delivery companies, while it has also expanded its use of alternative fuel vehicles.

Nick Landon, chief commercial officer at Royal Mail, said: “At Royal Mail we care about delivering a brilliant service for all of our customers, wherever they live in the UK. We are also incredibly passionate about protecting our diverse and beautiful environments.

“This trial is designed to help with both of these goals, using the most innovative technologies to support the remote and isolated communities we serve in the greenest way possible.

“The trialling of drone technologies is just one of the ways we are supporting our postmen and postwomen to deliver an amazing service, while reducing our carbon emissions.”

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