Royal Mail to roll out middle mile drone deliveries

Subject to Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) approval, Royal Mail has unveiled plans to use unmanned aerial vehicle delivery drones on more than 50 new routes in the next three years.

Initially the postal operator is to use Windracers drones to deliver to otherwise hard to reach locations such as Orkney, Shetland and the Scilly Isles. They are to replace ferry, manned aircraft and in-person deliveries, cutting costs and carbon emissions in the process.

Subject to CAA approval, Royal Mail plans to deploy more than 200 delivery drones on over 50 routes in the next three years, scaling up to more than 500 in the next five years.

This comes after trial delivery flights conducted to the Isle of Mull in Scotland, the Isles of Scilly and between two Orkney Islands. The latest trial operated on the Shetland Islands between Tingwall Airport on Lerwick to Unst, a flight of 50 miles each way. Unst has a population of 630 people and is the UK’s most northerly inhabited island.

The drones have a wingspan of 10 metres and can carry payloads of up to 100kg. On landing at the island or remote location, the local postie delivers the mail and parcels to the customer. The trial was part of the Sustainable Aviation Test Environment (SATE) project funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.

Simon Thompson, Chief Executive Officer at Royal Mail, said: “On time delivery regardless of our customers location or the weather, whilst protecting our environment is our goal. 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.” 

Stephen Wright, Chairman at Windracers Group, said: “The middle mile of supply and logistics, especially to remote locations, has long been overlooked by the industry and is ripe for innovation. 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.” 

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