Royal Mail to start regular drone delivery service between Hebridean islands

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Royal Mail – first mail delivery by drone looks set to become permanent

Royal Mail and Skyport Drone Services launched this week what is being proposed as the nations first permanent UAV delivery service.

Six kg of mail was delivered between the village of Stromness on Orkney’s main island and the nearby islands of Hoy and Graemsay,

Over the last twelve months, Royal Mail have been trialling drone technology to assess whether it can better serve remote and island communities.

The first drone delivery by Royal Mail was 2020 to a remote lighthouse on the Isle of Mull using a smaller vertical take-off and landing Uncrewed Aerial Vehicle (UAV).

The latest trial was held last month (April) on the Shetland Islands in partnership with Windracers. Test flights for the new service saw Royal Mail deliver mail between Tingwall Airport in Lerwick to Unst - a 50-mile flight each way. Unst has a population of around 630 people and is Britain’s most northerly inhabited island.

In October 2021, Royal Mail trialled scheduled, autonomous flights for two weeks between Kirkwall and North Ronaldsay (both in the Orkney Islands) with Windracers Ltd. In doing so they took the first steps towards Royal Mail’s goal of developing permanent, reliable, lower emission delivery solutions for remote communities entirely by an UAV.

In May 2021 they conducted a one-month trial of a Government-funded “air bridge” from the Cornish mainland to the Isles of Scilly, which saw us use a larger fixed wing UAV to deliver essential mail, PPE and COVID testing kits to the islands approximately 70 miles beyond visual line of sight.

Future plans

Royal Mail continue to see a number of potential benefits in using UAVs, including increased reliability (e.g. in foggy conditions), additional connectivity for remote communities, better environmental credentials versus conventional air freight and longer term - once legislation allows - reduced costs.

Environmental benefits

The trials have also been looking at the environmental benefits of drone technology, as part of Royal Mail’s continued drive to reduce emissions associated with our operations. With the UK's largest "Feet on the Street" network of over 90,000 postmen and women, Royal Mail already has the lowest reported CO2e emissions per parcel amongst major UK delivery companies. The potential introduction of low emission vehicles, such as UAVs, will help to shape Royal Mail’s long-term environmental strategy, to meet its goals of delivering a cleaner future.