Royal Mail has become the UK’s first parcel carrier to deliver mail to a UK island and use a drone to deliver parcels – including essential PPE items and Covid-19 testing kits – to remote communities on the Isles of Scilly.

The British postal service and courier company is also conducting a one-month trial scheduling autonomous flights between Cornwall and the islands – which are an archipelago located off the southwestern tip of the county. The project has been developed via a consortium led by DronePrep, Skyports, Consortiq, Excalibur Healthcare, the University of Southampton and Windracers. It has been funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). 

The scheduled, autonomous flights will use two different unmanned aircraft to deliver mail. A large UAV from Windracers will carry mail from the mainland to the islands, while a smaller VTOL drone operated by Skyports will then fly parcels between the islands for delivery to residents.

If successful, Royal Mail will consider expanding the technology across its network, potentially providing opportunities to better support postmen and postwomen in delivering to remote areas and addresses in the UK.

Nick Landon, Chief Commercial Officer at Royal Mail, said: “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. 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.”

During the trial, there will be a particular focus on delivering critical PPE and COVID testing kits, from the mainland to communities on the Isles of Scilly. However, other parcels will also be carried, including orders from various retailers. The larger UAV can carry roughly 100kg worth of mail of all shapes and sizes – equivalent to a typical delivery round.

After Royal Mail became the first nationwide UK parcel carrier to deliver a parcel for recipients via a piloted drone to the Isle of Mull in Scotland, the company will be undertaking a consultation with residents and landowners on the use of drones to deliver to rural communities on the island in coming months. This will be done in partnership with DronePrep.

Gareth Whatmore, CEO at DronePrep, said:This project has given us the opportunity to understand how multiple drone delivery platforms can be utilised to overcome and solve real world logistical challenges. With the introduction of drones to complement existing supply chains we have huge opportunity to improve the island connection.

“It has been a privilege to lead on this project and bring together leading UK drone companies and real end users like Royal Mail and Excalibur Healthcare Services to all learn together how we can use drones to improve the robustness of delivery to remote communities.”

Duncan Walker, CEO at Skyports, added: “Working with world-class partners such as Royal Mail, our team at Skyports has conducted a number of successful delivery programmes across the UK and beyond. It’s very gratifying to be part of this new project, using cutting edge technology to connect communities and make a real difference to peoples’ day-to-day lives.”