The UK’s Royal Mail has announced plans to open 50 postal routes serviced by delivery drones over the next three years as part of a wider objective of deploying over 500 UAVs to carry letters and parcels to remote localities in the country.
Royal Mail said drone delivery of post will initially be introduced to the Shetland Islands, Orkney Islands, Hebrides, and the Isles of Scilly. That latter destination was selected by the 507-year-old public service last year to first trial postal flights by UAVs between Cornwall and the archipelago, located 30 miles to the south. Since then, Royal Mail has additionally operated test programs to Scotland’s Isle of Mull and Orkney Islands.
Most of those Royal Mail trials have been in partnership with drone delivery and air taxi infrastructure company Skyports, which operated the Mull flights after earlier transporting medical materials to far-flung UK destinations during spikes in the COVID-19 pandemic.
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Pending approval from the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority, Royal Mail will start phasing in postal drone deliveries across more than 50 designated routes in coming months. It will operate flights with drone manufacturer and service provider Windracers, which participated in earlier trials.
The company’s 10-meter, fixed wing UAVs can carry up to 100 kg of post over a maximum range of 70 miles. The craft were used in a trial last month to the Orkney island of Unst, flying 50 miles each way.
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In making its announcement Thursday, Royal Mail said its target over the next three years is to have about 200 drones delivering post on the initial 50 aerial routes. After that, the plan calls for deployment of over 500 UAVs transporting letters and packets to all corners of the UK.
Officials say turning to drones not only represents a far faster and cheaper option to habitual vans, boats, and helicopters, but also supports their efforts to reduce the public service’s carbon footprint.
“On time delivery regardless of our customers location or the weather, whilst protecting our environment is our goal,” noted Simon Thompson, Royal Mail CEO. “Even though we go everywhere, Royal Mail already has the lowest CO2 emissions per parcel delivered, this initiative will help reduce our emissions even further.”
UK government and aviation authorities have been eager to embrace and facilitate use of drones and next generation electric aircraft as a means of relieving clogged street traffic and modernizing the nation’s transportation choices. They also see the nascent sector as a likely generator of enormous economic activity.
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Wingracers chairman Stephen Wright thinks drone postal deliveries for the Royal Mail will also demonstrate the broader effectiveness and attractiveness of UAV deployment for other businesses and administrations.
“The middle mile of supply and logistics, especially to remote locations, has long been overlooked by the industry and is ripe for innovation,” Wright says. “We’ve spent the last five years focused on developing the most commercially viable essential logistics drones so we’re truly delighted to be working with Royal Mail on this ambitious and pioneering deployment of autonomous aircraft. It puts the UK firmly at the forefront of this exciting sector.”
Photo: Colin Keldie, Courtesy of SATE