The postal network has started a two-week trial of scheduled, autonomous flights between Kirkwall and North Ronaldsay to help better connect remote island communities.
The reasonably large UK-built unmanned twin-engine air craft (UAV) named ‘Ultra’ can transport up to 100kg of parcels of various sizes – equivalent to a typical delivery round.
Once delivered, the local postie on the island can drop them off to homes of around 70 people.
“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” says Nick Landon, Royal Mail
The trial – with Windracers Ltd – is part of the Sustainable Aviation Test Environment (Sate) project based at Kirkwall Airport.
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”.
If the trial is successful, the technology will be considered by Royal Mail 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 use GPS to coordinate journeys operated from a base.
Amy Richards, local postwoman for the Isles of Scilly, said: “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.”
Nick Landon, Chief Commercial Officer at Royal Mail, said: “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.”
Gareth Whatmore, CEO at DronePrep, said “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.”
Charles Scales, Chief Executive Officer at Windracers, said: “It’s been a privilege and an honour to serve the Isles of Scilly and Royal Mail’s customers and employees with our autonomous, 100kg over 1,000-kilometre, ULTRA UAV. The ULTRA platform was designed to supply and serve people in remote locations, whether to children in need of medical or food aid in a country as large as South Sudan, or to serve island communities within our home shores. This project has proven the efficiency and robustness of ULTRA, with each round trip being 211km and being completed in less than two hours. With our unique CAA permissions, this will be the first time a large, economic, load carrying UAV is used between the Isles of Scilly and mainland Cornwall in a month-long trial. I want to thank our team and our project partners, the UK Government’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, Cornwall Development Company, Civil Aviation Authority, DronePrep, Consortiq and University of Southampton.”
Gary Cutts, Future Flight Challenge Director at UKRI, said: “This ground-breaking initiative is a great example of collaboration between innovative businesses and those delivering key public services. The Government funding provided by the Future Flight programme has delivered solutions to challenges coming from the COVID-19 pandemic and has potential for future applications. It illustrates the real-life benefits to remote communities across the UK that can come from investment in drone technologies.”
Duncan Walker, CEO at Skyports, said: “Drone technology has already proven its value as part of a network, bringing essential items such as mail or medical equipment to remote regions. Working with world-class partners such as Royal Mail, our team at Skyports has conducted a number of successful delivery programmes across the UK and beyond. It’s very gratifying to be part of this new project, using cutting edge technology to connect communities and make a real difference to peoples’ day to day lives.”
Gareth Beverley, Managing Director at Consortiq, said: “It’s been fantastic to see a real-life use case for drone delivery technology come to life. The benefits to the local community are immense, and the implications for a more environmentally friendly future are very positive. I hope this sets the stage for widespread adoption of drone deliveries in the UK.”
Minister for Business Paul Scully said: “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.”
Professor Sir Chris Evans, CEO at Excalibur Healthcare Services, said: ‘We are incredibly excited to be part of this initiative, which is a prime example of the excellence of British innovation. Through this collaborative effort, we not only have brought vital PPE and testing kits to people who need them but also lay the groundwork for the use of technology and drones to create positive impacts in the future.’
James Scanlan, Professor of Aerospace Design from the University of Southampton said: “We are delighted to be supporting this pioneering and important demonstration of real drone operations in routine and regular usage. We are very proud to be working with Royal Mail on this project.”