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Royal Mail to launch fleet of 500 drones for deliveries to remote areas

Author : Sophia Bell, Acting Group Editor, DPA

12 May 2022

Royal Mail has announced ambitious plans to ‘open up the skies’, by creating 50 new postal routes for drones over the next three years.

Photo credit: Colin Keldie, courtesy of SATE project
Photo credit: Colin Keldie, courtesy of SATE project

The current initiative – in collaboration with Windracers, the logistics drone company – will see more than 50 drone routes and 200 drones over the next three years. It will initially target remote communities in the Hebrides, the Isles of Scilly, the Shetlands, and the Orkney Islands.

The drones will provide a more efficient alternative to Royal Mail’s current delivery methods – including ferries, conventional aircraft and land-based delivery – which can be subject to delays caused by bad weather.

The plan will not only allow Royal Mail to access remote communities across the UK, but the lower-emission drones will also enable the postal service to reduce its carbon footprint. According to Windracers, the drones will be manufactured from more sustainable materials and will be up to 30 percent more carbon efficient than crewed aircraft. 

Simon Thompson, Chief Executive of 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 of the 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.”

Over the last 18 months, Royal Mail has successfully conducted four drone trials, with the latest taking place last month on the Shetland Islands. A 50-mile test flight over three days took place saw between Tingwall Airport in Lerwick to Unst – Britain’s most northerly inhabited island.

The UAVs have an impressive wingspan of 10 metres and can carry up to 100kg for two daily return flights between the islands. The letters and parcels are then delivered by the local postperson. 

If all goes well – and subject to Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) approval – Royal Mail then hopes to upgrade to 500 drones, streamlining its delivery service across all areas of the UK. 

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