In the next three years, the Royal Mail hopes to have 200 drones that will help carry mail to up to 50 new routes including the Isles of Scilly, Shetland Islands, Orkney Islands and the Hebrides, being the first to receive such service.
Still needing approval from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), the new routes will be dependent on “ongoing planned improvement in Unmanned Aerial Vehicle economics,” reports BBC.
The drones are 10m (32.8ft) wingtip to wingtip, with a range of 1,000km (621 miles) and the ability to carry up to 100kg (220lb). Powered by two internal combustion engines, the head of drone trials at the Royal Mail, Chris Paxton, said that they had originally been designed to deliver aid in Africa.
“They are able to take off in a relatively short space and land in a similar short area. So they are capable of landing on fields, provided the area is flat enough,” Paxton said. “They are very much like a small plane. And the only difference is there isn’t a pilot on board.”
After cargo has been unloaded, the drones will have to be delivered by postal workers.
Although flying autonomously, the drones are supervised remotely by “safety pilots” who can take control when needed. Moreover, the drones reduce carbon emissions in the environment, with 30% fewer emissions than a piloted aircraft. They are also less affected by weather conditions in comparison to normal aircraft.
Kay Wackwitz, analyst of Drone Industry Insights says, “In comparison to ferries, island delivery can be done more quickly, more flexibly, and at a smaller ecological footprint”.
The approval for the drone deliveries is in the early stages of approval by the CAA which believes that drone deliveries will have to be “fully integrated into the airspace” with all the other users, from parachutists to military fast jets, so that it can be an everyday occurance.Mr Paxton, however is positive about getting the approval and building his 500 strong drone fleet.