Drone Deliveries for North Ronaldsay

This week, Royal Mail has started a trial of scheduled, autonomous flights for two weeks between Kirkwall and North Ronaldsay with Windracers Ltd.

Sarah Moore, the North Ronaldsay postie, said:

“It’s really exciting to be involved in this trial. North Ronaldsay is a very remote area of the UK and I’m proud to be involved in an initiative that will help Royal Mail to do all we can to keep all areas of the UK connected.”

The flight trials, which form part of the SATE project funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) via the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, will use a large, twin-engine, UK-built UAV ( Uncrewed Aerial Vehicle) named ULTRA.

The UAV has been designed, built and operated by Windracers Ltd to carry mail from Kirkwall Airport a 35 miles flight to North Ronaldsay.

Charles Scales, Chief Executive Officer at Windracers, said:

“Windracers is delighted to be operating one of our 100kg payload ULTRA UAVs to North Ronaldsay for Royal Mail. Our autonomous system will deliver an all-weather service for the community and significantly lower carbon emissions. We would like to thank our SATE project partners, HIAL, the University of Southampton and Innovate UK.”

Windracers team prepare the ULTRA UAV at Kirkwall Airport (Credit Colin Keldie, Courtesy of SATE)

The Windracers ULTRA UAV can carry 100kg of mail of all shapes and sizes – equivalent to a typical delivery round. Letters and parcels will then be delivered by the local postie in the usual way 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. UAVs can fly in poor weather conditions, including fog, because they are uncrewed, and unlike boat services they are not affected by tides.

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. The trialling of drone technologies is just one of the ways we are supporting our postmen and postwomen to deliver an amazing service, while reducing our carbon emissions.”

The trial is part of the Sustainable Aviation Test Environment (SATE) project based at Kirkwall Airport operated by Highlands and Islands Limited (HIAL) in Orkney.

The SATE project is part of the Future Flight Challenge funded by UK Research and Innovation through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund. Led by HIAL, SATE is the UK’s first low-carbon aviation test centre embedded in an operational airport. The project is hosting trials of aviation technologies including low-carbon aircraft and UAVs.

This is the third drone trial that Royal Mail has taken part in over the last year. In December 2020, Royal Mail became the first nationwide UK parcel carrier to deliver a parcel for recipients via drone to a lighthouse on the Isle of Mull in Scotland. In May 2021, Royal Mail delivered two more UK firsts: the first UK drone parcel delivery beyond visual line of site with Windracers Ltd, and the first inter-island deliveries on the Isles of Scilly.

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.”

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