Royal Mail has become the first UK postal operator to deliver mail via drone in a government-funded trial being hailed as showcase for the real-world potential drones have to truly transform lives.
The scheme, which saw an unmanned drone full of postal bags fly from the mainland to the Isles of Scilly more than 70 miles out to sea, is part of a major new out-of-sight autonomous flight trial which will see drones carry PPE and Covid testing kits to remote communities on the islands.
Developed with a number of partners, including DronePrep, Skyports, Consortiq, University of Southampton, Excalibur Healthcare Services and Windracers, it will initially focus on medical PPE delivery, but is also able to accommodate mail of most shapes and sizes, enabling more general mail to be transported to the islands as part of the trial.
Parcels are flown to the islands’ St Mary’s Airport by a UK-built twin-engine Windracers UAV, which has a 100kg payload – equivalent to a typical delivery round. A smaller VTO drone, operated by Skyports, is then used to transport items to a number of delivery points throughout the islands.
According to Royal Mail, the drones will complement existing forms of transportation for mail to the islands. They are able to fly in poor weather conditions – including fog – as they are unmanned and not dependent on tides. This could potentially make them well suited to help Royal Mail better serve remote island communities.
Royal Mail chief commercial officer Nick Landon said: “We are incredibly proud to find ways to support the more remote and isolated communities we serve. This is part of our constant drive to incorporate the best and most innovative technologies into our network.
“We’ve seen a huge increase in parcel volumes since the start of the pandemic, and this is just one of the ways we are looking to support our postmen and postwomen in delivering fast and convenient services for all of our customers while reducing our carbon emissions.”
Minister for Business Paul Scully added: “The UK is at the forefront of the aviation revolution, developing newer and more fuel-efficient technologies.
“Royal Mail’s ‘air bridge’ to the Isles of Scilly will not only connect isolated and rural communities, but showcases the real-world potential drones have to truly transform our lives. Backed by government funding, it is initiatives like these which will help us beat Covid-19 and build back better from the pandemic.”
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