Royal Mail trials BVLOS parcel deliveries between UK mainland and Scilly Isles

UK Royal Mail has launched a trial to conduct autonomous scheduled drone flights between the mainland and Scilly Isles. The trial will see the company use Uncrewed Aerial Vehicle (UAV) flights to deliver Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), COVID testing kits and other mail to the Isles of Scilly. The company is also trialling inter-island parcel deliveries across the Scillies with a smaller vertical take-off and landing drone.

The project is funded under the UK government’s Research and Innovation Future Flight challenge. Other partners include DronePrep, Skyports, Consortiq Limited, University of Southampton, Excalibur Healthcare Services and Windracers Limited.

The project unites two companies that have previously acted in response to the UK COVID-19 challenge – Windracers and the drone delivery arm of air mobility company Skyports – for the first time. It will showcase how UAVs of different sizes could be used to complement each other in future, says the Royal Mail press release.

Parcels will be flown to the islands’ airport in St. Mary’s, by a UK-built twin-engine Windracers UAV, which can carry up to 100kg worth of mail at a time – equivalent to a typical delivery round. A smaller VTO drone, operated by Skyports, will then be used to transport items to a number of delivery points throughout the islands.

The autonomous flight route that the UAV takes involves being roughly 70 miles out of sight before it reaches its destination.

The UAVs will complement existing forms of transport for mail to the Isles of Scilly. They are able to fly in poor weather conditions – including fog – as they are uncrewed and not dependent on tides. This could potentially make them well suited to help Royal Mail better service remote island communities.

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

Royal Mail tested parcel deliveries for recipients via drone to a remote lighthouse on the Isle of Mull in Scotland in December 2020. In coming months, a consultation will be undertaken with residents on the use of drones to deliver to rural communities on the island.

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