Earlier in May 2022, Royal Mail announced a partnership with Windracers Group, a manufacturer of twin-engine fixed-wing UAVs, to establish more than 50 new postal drone routes over the next three years.
Subject to Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) approval, Royal Mail's new plan will facilitate faster and more convenient services for customers in remote communities, such as island communities across the Isles of Scilly, Shetland Islands, Orkney Islands, and the Hebrides. Furthermore, drones can help further reduce Royal Mail's carbon emissions and improve the reliability of island mail services. These currently use ferries, small manned aircraft, and land-based delivery, which are weather-dependent and constrained by pilot availability and maintenance schedules.
"On-time delivery regardless of our customers' location or the weather, whilst protecting our environment is our goal," Simon Thompson, Chief Executive Officer at Royal Mail, said. "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."
In the next three years, apart from the 50 new postal drone routes, Royal Mail wants to increase its game by expanding its drone fleet to 200 drones. In the long term, if all goes according to plan, the company expects to expand it even further to 500 drones servicing all corners of the UK and beyond.
"The middle mile of supply and logistics, especially to remote locations, has long been overlooked by the industry and is ripe for innovation," Stephen Wright, Chairman at Windracers Group, stated. "We've spent the last five years 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. It puts the UK firmly at the forefront of this exciting sector."
Royal Mail's expansion of alternative fuel vehicles, such as drones, demonstrates its commitment to reducing emissions associated with its operation and delivering a cleaner future. It all started in 2020, when the company partnered with DronePrep, Skyports, and what3words to become the first nationwide UK parcel carrier to deliver a parcel to recipients via a drone, with the first delivery taking place to a remote lighthouse on the Isle of Mull.
"Delivering the first live parcel in the UK by an unmanned drone was a landmark day for us," said Nick Landon, Chief Commercial Officer at Royal Mail, in December 2020. "This is part of our constant drive to incorporate the best innovative technologies into our network. We've seen a huge increase in parcel volumes this year (2020), and this is just one of the ways we are looking at to support our frontline delivery staff and deliver fast, convenient, and green services for all of our customers."
In May 2021, together with DronePrep, Skyports, Consortiq, University of Southampton, Excalibur Healthcare Services, and Windracers, Royal Mail scored a first again, becoming the first UK parcel carrier to deliver mail to a UK island with a 70-mile out-of-sight, autonomous flight to the Isles of Scilly. Later that year, the company started a two-week trial of scheduled, autonomous flights between Kirkwall and North Ronaldsay in the Orkney Islands with Windracers to help better connect remote island communities.
Last April, Royal Mail held another trial on the Shetland Islands in partnership with Windracers. The test flight ran for three days and saw Royal Mail deliver mail between Tingwall Airport in Lerwick to Unst—a 50-mile flight each way. Unst has around 630 people and is Britain's most northerly inhabited island.
Royal Mail is committed to working with the CAA to "open up the skies," initially in targeted remote areas, to create permanent drone routes.