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Royal Mail in drone first – flying online orders, mail and Covid equipment to the Scillies

Post-haste delivery – by drone. Image: SWNS/Royal Mail

Royal Mail is carrying online orders to shoppers on the Isles of Scilly by drone for the first time – as part of a delivery trial that will primarily carry PPE, Covid-19 testing kits and mail.

The company says the test flights make it the first UK parcel carrier to use a drone to deliver parcels – and the first to deliver mail by drone to a UK island in a 70 mile out-of-sight autonomous flight to the Scilly Isles, and to deliver inter-island parcel deliveries. 

It is now trialling scheduled autonomous flights for a month between Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly – carrying parcels with orders from retailers, as well as mail. 

Nick Landon, chief commercial officer at Royal Mail, says: “Two more major UK firsts is hugely significant for us, and 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.” 

Amy Richards, local postwoman for the Isles of Scilly, says: “It’s great to be involved in this initiative. There are some really remote areas on these islands, and this is a terrific way to help us reach them. It’s really important for us to do all we can to help all areas of the country stay connected – especially in these difficult times.”

The flights use two uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAVs) to deliver mail. A large twin-engine UAV built in the UK by specialist Windracers will carry the mail from the mainland to the islands. The drone is able to fly in poor weather conditions including fog, carrying up to 100kg of mail, and should mean Royal Mail can better serve remote island communities. A smaller vertical take-off and landing (VTO) drone, operated by Skyports, will then fly parcels between islands for delivery. 

If the trial is successful, Royal Mail may expand its use of drones to other remote UK areas and addresses. It is also looking at the environmental benefits of the trial. 

The project has been developed via a consortium led by DronePrep, Skyports, Consortiq Limited, Excalibur Healthcare Services, University of Southampton and Windracers Limited, and funded by  UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). 

Royal Mail previously took a parcel via piloted drone to the Isle of Mull in Scotland – again, working with DronePrep – and is to consult both residents and landowners on using drones to delivery to rural island communities in the coming months. 

Gareth Whatmore, chief executive of DronePrep, says: “This project has given us the opportunity to understand how multiple drone delivery platforms can be utilised to overcome and solve real world logistical challenges. With the introduction of drones to complement existing supply chains we have huge opportunity to improve the island connection. It has been a privilege to lead on this project and bring together leading UK drone companies and real end users like Royal Mail and Excalibur Healthcare Services to all learn together how we can use drones to improve the robustness of delivery to remote communities.”

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