Royal Mail launches landmark drone delivery trial in “major” step toward commercial use


Royal Mail has launched a landmark government-funded drone delivery trial marking a “major” step forward for commercial drone deliveries in the UK.

Royal Mail has become the first UK parcel delivery carrier to deliver mail via unmanned drone to the Isles of Scilly more than 70 miles out to sea.

It forms part of a major new out-of-sight autonomous flight trial which will see drones carry PPE and COVID testing kits from the mainland to remote communities on the islands.

While this current trial will focus on crucial medical deliveries, other parcels from various retailer weighing up to 100kg will also be delivered.

If successful, Royal Mail says it will consider expanding the technology across its wider delivery network helping to deliver parcels to remote and hard to reach areas across the UK.

The project, which is being led by a consortium of organisations including DronePrep, Skyports, Consortiq Limited, Excalibur Healthcare Services, University of Southampton and Windracers Limited, marks a major step forward for the possibility of commercial drone deliveries in the UK.

This is because until now, drone deliveries out of the operator’s line of sight have been illegal under UK aviation regulations, requiring any drones to be flown at a maximum of 1600ft from the pilot.

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These rules were seen as a major barrier to the development of commercial drone deliveries in the UK, which are being used increasingly regularly in China and the US to reach remote locations.

Alongside the larger twin-engine unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), capable of crossing from Cornwall to the Isles of Scilly in adverse weather conditions, the group will also be testing a smaller vertical take-off drone to fly parcels between the islands.

“Two more major UK firsts is hugely significant for us, and we are incredibly proud to find ways to support the more remote and isolated communities we serve,” Royal Mail’s chief commercial officer Nick Landon said.

“This is part of our constant drive to incorporate the best and most innovative technologies into our network.

“We’ve seen a huge increase in parcel volumes since the start of the pandemic, and this is just one of the ways we are looking to support our postmen and postwomen in delivering fast and convenient services for all of our customers while reducing our carbon emissions.”

Minister for Business Paul Scully added: “The UK is at the forefront of the aviation revolution, developing newer and more fuel-efficient technologies.

“Royal Mail’s ‘air bridge’ to the Isles of Scilly will not only connect isolated and rural communities, but showcases the real-world potential drones have to truly transform our lives. Backed by government funding, it is initiatives like these which will help us beat COVID-19 and build back better from the pandemic.”

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