Drones: connecting remote communities across the UK

Over the last twelve months, at Royal Mail we have been trialling drone technology to assess whether it can help us to better serve remote and island communities.

The latest trial was held last month (April) on the Shetland Islands in partnership with Windracers. Test flights for the new service saw Royal Mail deliver mail between Tingwall Airport in Lerwick to Unst - a 50-mile flight each way. Unst has a population of around 630 people and is Britain’s most northerly inhabited island.

In October 2021, we trialled scheduled, autonomous flights for two weeks between Kirkwall and North Ronaldsay (both in the Orkney Islands) with Windracers Ltd. In doing so, we took the first steps towards Royal Mail’s goal of developing permanent, reliable, lower emission delivery solutions for remote communities entirely by an UAV.

In May 2021, we conducted a one-month trial of a Government-funded “air bridge” from the Cornish mainland to the Isles of Scilly, which saw us use a larger fixed wing UAV to deliver essential mail, PPE and COVID testing kits to the islands approximately 70 miles beyond visual line of sight.

In December 2020, we made our first drone delivery to a remote lighthouse on the Isle of Mull using a smaller vertical take-off and landing Uncrewed Aerial Vehicle (UAV).

Future plans

We continue to see a number of potential benefits in using UAVs, including increased reliability (e.g. in foggy conditions), additional connectivity for remote communities, better environmental credentials versus conventional air freight and longer term - once legislation allows - reduced costs.

Depending on the results of the trials, the technology will be considered by Royal Mail to help us identify opportunities to support postmen and postwomen in delivering to very remote areas and addresses across the UK.

Trialling drones is an exciting opportunity to test out new ways of working to support our people who deliver to some of the most remote areas of the UK – we are certainly not looking to replace the great work our postmen and postwomen do.

We’ve seen a huge increase in parcel volumes, since the start of the pandemic. This is just one of the ways we are looking to support our staff to deliver fast, convenient and lower emission services for all of our customers.

Environmental benefits

The trials have also been looking at the environmental benefits of drone technology, as part of Royal Mail’s continued drive to reduce emissions associated with our operations. 

With the UK's largest "Feet on the Street" network of over 90,000 postmen and women, Royal Mail already has the lowest reported CO2e emissions per parcel amongst major UK delivery companies.

The potential introduction of low emission vehicles, such as UAVs, will help to shape Royal Mail’s long-term environmental strategy, to meet its goals of delivering a cleaner future.

Isle of Mull trial - before take off!

Drone delivery on the Isle of Mull

Isle of Scilly trial

North Ronaldsay trial