Royal Mail has also trialled the first inter-island drone flights with a smaller vertical take-off and landing drone.
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.
Royal Mail has also become the first to execute inter-island parcel deliveries across the Scillies, as part of the trial.
The government-funded project, which has been developed in partnership with DronePrep, Skyports, Consortiq Limited, University of Southampton, Excalibur Healthcare Services and Windracers Limited, will initially have a particular focus on helping to fight the pandemic by delivering crucial PPE and testing kits to the islands’ most vulnerable and remote communities.
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.
Charles Scales, chief executive officer at Windracers, said: “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.”
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.
In December, Royal Mail became the first nationwide UK parcel carrier to deliver a parcel for recipients via drone to a remote lighthouse on the Isle of Mull in Scotland. In coming months, a consultation will be undertaken with residents on the use of drones to deliver to rural communities on the island.