Royal Mail Drones To Aid Postal Deliveries To Remote Locations

The Royal Mail is to increase its use of drones for deliveries with the creation of 50 new “postal drone routes” over the next three years.

The announcement revealed the Royal Mail is teaming up with logistics drone company Windracers, but the plan is subject to Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) approval.

In January 2021 new drone rules went into force in the UK, designed to harmonise the regulatory environment across Europe, with light-weight vehicles now permitted to fly around people.

Drone rules

The new rules also included clarifications about where drones can be flown, and rules intended to make it easier to trace pilots.

In the UK, drones must be registered with the Civil Aviation Authority.

However, most drones are categorised as “low-risk” and do not require any authorisation, although they are subject to limitations such as where they can fly.

The other two categories are medium- and high-risk, and are subject to stricter regulatory controls.

Low-risk drones are to be managed through the CE mark that governs health and safety requirements for products sold across Europe.

Within this category, drones are grouped into three weight-based categories indicating how close they can be flown to people.

Light-weight drones under 250g in weight can be flown over people, doing away with previous rules that imposed a minimum distance separating drones from congested areas.

Medium-weight drones over 250g must be flown at least 50m away from people, and heavier drones over 2kg must be flown well away from people.

UK users continue to face a requirement to pass the CAA’s official theory test and to have obtained a flyer ID to fly a drone weighing over 250g within 150m of people.

Royal Mail

Against this tightened regulatory backdrop comes the Royal Mail teaming with Windracer, to provide faster and more convenient services for remote communities.

The use of these drones will also help further reduce Royal Mail’s carbon emissions and improve the reliability of island mail services, the company said.

The Royal Mail currently uses ferries, conventional aircraft and land-based delivery which can be affected by bad weather.

The first routes identified for the new service include the Isles of Scilly, Shetland Islands, Orkney Islands and the Hebrides.

Royal Mail said it was aiming to use up to 200 drones over the next three years, increasing to more than 500, servicing all corners of the UK.

100kg payload

Royal Mail has conducted four drone trials over the last 18 months, including flights on the Isle of Mull in Scotland, the Isles of Scilly off the Cornish coast and between Kirkwall and North Ronaldsay on the Orkney Islands.

Test flights for the new service have been held between Tingwall Airport in Lerwick and Unst (one of the North Isles of the Shetland Islands, Scotland) – a 50-mile flight each way.

The twin-engine UAV used in the trial can fly in difficult weather conditions, and has a wingspan of 10 metres and incorporates a high-reliability autopilot system.

And they can carry up to 100kg of mail of all shapes and sizes for two daily return flights between the islands. Letters and parcels are then delivered by the local postie.

“On time delivery regardless of our customers location or the weather, whilst protecting our environment is our goal,” noted Simon Thompson, chief executive of Royal Mail. “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.”

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

“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,” said Wright.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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