Royal Mail’s ambition to deliver to remote communities is moving forward with a trial of autonomous flights between Kirkwall and North Ronaldsay in the Orkney Islands.
The two-week trial will see Windracers Ltd’s ULTRA UAV take scheduled, autonomous flights as part of the Sustainable Aviation Test Environment (SATE) project, which is funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) via the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.
The twin-engine ULTRA has been designed, built and operated by Windracers Ltd to carry 100kg of mail from Kirkwall Airport on the Orkney mainland to the island community of North Ronaldsay, which is a 35-mile flight each way. Letters and parcels will then be delivered by the local postie when they reach the island.
If the trial is successful, the technology will be considered by Royal Mail to support postmen and postwomen in delivering to very remote areas and addresses across the UK. It follows previous efforts that in December 2020 saw Royal Mail deliver a parcel for recipients via drone to a remote lighthouse on the Isle of Mull. In May 2021, Royal Mail conducted first UK drone parcel delivery beyond visual line of site with Windracers Ltd, and the first inter-island deliveries on the Isles of Scilly.
In a statement, Nick Landon, chief commercial officer at Royal Mail, said: “At Royal Mail we care about delivering a brilliant service for all of our customers, wherever they live in the UK. We are also incredibly passionate about protecting our diverse and beautiful environments. This trial is designed to help with both of these goals, using the most innovative technologies to support the remote and isolated communities we serve in the greenest way possible.”
SATE is based at Kirkwall Airport, which is operated by Highlands and Islands Limited (HIAL). Led by HIAL, SATE is hosting trials of aviation technologies including low-carbon aircraft and UAVs as part of the UKRI Future Flight Challenge.
Dougie Cook, HIAL’s general manager north, said: “This is a significant trial for UAVs that form an important part of the SATE project. The facilities at Kirkwall Airport provide an ideal testing centre for this innovative application of UAV technology, which could bring practical benefits to the communities that HIAL serves.
“The SATE project is an important collaboration for HIAL and allows us to work with partners who are leading the way in sustainable aviation on a global scale. We are committed to being at the forefront of Scotland’s efforts to transition to a low carbon future.”