Royal Mail van and delivery drone

Royal Mail to trial drone delivery to Isles of Scilly

Image credit: Royal Mail

Royal Mail is to trial the use of drones to deliver Covid testing kits, health and safety equipment, and other items to the Isles of Scilly, and between its islands.

According to the company, this is the first instance of an autonomous and out-of-sight drone flight being scheduled between the UK mainland and an island. The Isles of Scilly are approximately 45km southwest from the tip of the Cornish peninsula.

The flight route will involve the drone being over 110km out of sight before it reaches its destination.

Parcels will be flown to the archipelago’s airport in St Mary’s by a large delivery drone with a payload of 100kg: equivalent to a typical delivery round. A smaller drone will carry out inter-island last-mile delivery, transporting items to several delivery points throughout the Scillies.

“There are some really remote areas on these islands, and this is a terrific way to help us reach them,” Amy Richards, a Royal Mail postal worker on the Isles of Scilly, told PA news agency. “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.”

Initially, the project will focus on delivering personal protective equipment and testing kits to the most remote and vulnerable communities across the islands, which have a population of around 2,000 according to the 2011 census, mostly concentrated in St Mary’s. It will also examine what fuel efficiencies the drones could provide, as part of Royal Mail’s efforts to reduce operational carbon emissions. The project is publicly funded and was developed in partnership with the University of Southampton and its industrial partners.

If the trial is successful, the technology could be rolled out by Royal Mail to assist delivery workers across other sparsely populated parts of the UK.

“This is part of our constant drive to incorporate the best and most innovative technologies into our network,” said Royal Mail chief commercial officer Nick Landon. “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 our customers while reducing our carbon emissions.”

Rachel Maclean, under-secretary at the Department for Transport, commented: “The UK is already a world leader when it comes to innovation in aviation, and today’s announcement is an exciting step forward for Royal Mail. The Future Flight Challenge is offering real-life solutions for significant issues such as public health, by bringing together innovative technologies.”

Many companies have been trialling drone deliveries, including UPS, Tesco, and Walmart, and there is considerable interest in using drones to execute urgent deliveries of medical supplies, such as blood, organs, and high-speed tests. Last year, trials were carried out for a drone service to deliver medical supplies to the Isle of Wight to assist its Covid-19 response.

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