Royal Mail and its partners have launched “a daily inter-island mail distribution service between three islands on Orkney” using fully-electric drones.
The I-Port project, which will initially operate for three months before being assessed for renewal, is the result of a partnership between Royal Mail, Skyports Drone Services, Orkney Islands Council Harbour Authority, and Loganair.
It is one of nine logistics-related projects to have received funding from the Department for Transport’s (DfT) Freight Innovation Fund (FIF). Skyports received a grant of £150,000 to test the Orkney I-Port operation as a part of the FIF programme.
Another DfT scheme, the Transport Research and Innovation Grant (TRIG), recently provided funding to a different drone scheme for rural logistics, using uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAVs) to better connect those living in rural areas with the wider logistics network. Click here to read the full story, including an interview with the founder and Chief Executive of the drone company – IONA Drones.
Royal Mail says that this is “the first UK drone delivery project which can be conducted on a permanent basis under existing regulatory frameworks”.
It is hoped that drone technology will be able to provide a more reliable delivery service for the islands’ residents, as pauses in the ferry schedule can disrupt the current system and lead to longer delivery times.
Chris Paxton, Head of Drone Trials at Royal Mail, said: “We are proud to be working with Skyports to deliver via drone to some of the more remote communities that we serve in the UK. Using a fully-electric drone supports Royal Mail’s continued drive to reduce emissions associated with our operations, whilst connecting the island communities we deliver to.”
Once letters and parcels have arrived at Stromness from Royal Mail’s delivery office in Kirkwall, UAVs will transport them to Royal Mail staff on Graemsay and Hoy, who will deliver them to their intended destinations on the islands.
The operation will be carried out with a model of drone called the Speedbird Aero DLV-2, capable of carrying payloads of up to 6kg and making 8km round trips on a single charge.
Alex Brown, Director of Skyports Drone Services, said: “By leveraging drone technology, we are revolutionising mail services in remote communities, providing more efficient and timely delivery, and helping to reduce the requirement for emissions-producing vehicles.
“We’re pleased to once again be partnering with Royal Mail to demonstrate how drone operations can benefit UK logistics on this project. The I-Port project also marks an exciting milestone as it is the first operation we are completing with aircraft partner Speedbird.”
The project has attracted the attention of local politicians, with Alistair Carmichael, MP for Orkney and Shetland, adding: “I was glad to attend the drone tests and see their development for myself. Obviously these schemes are still at trial stage and so we should temper our expectations.
“Even so, anything that helps to maintain the universal service, especially in areas of the isles which are more difficult to reach, is something that we should give a chance to support. Royal Mail remains a critical part of keeping the isles connected – and local knowledge and care are vital to that network.”
For more on the use of drones within the logistics industry, check out this feature from the August issue of Logistics Manager Magazine!