This week, Royal Mail has started a trial of scheduled, autonomous flights for two weeks between Kirkwall and North Ronaldsay (both in the Orkney Islands) with Windracers Ltd to help better connect remote island communities. In doing so, Royal Mail is taking the first steps towards the Company’s goal of developing permanent, reliable, lower emission delivery solutions for remote communities entirely by an Uncrewed Aerial Vehicle (UAV).
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 named ULTRA. The UAV has been designed, built and operated by Windracers Ltd to carry mail from Kirkwall Airport on the Orkney mainland to the island community of North Ronaldsay, a 35-mile flight each way. Further north than the southern tip of Norway, North Ronaldsay is the furthest flung of the Orkney Islands. The trial will support the community of around 70 people on North Ronaldsay with a service that is expected to be less affected by poor weather, while reducing emissions.
Windracers team prepare the ULTRA UAV at Kirkwall Airport (Credit Colin Keldie, Coutesy of SATE)
The Windracers ULTRA UAV can carry 100kg of mail of all shapes and sizes – equivalent to a typical delivery round – enabling the transportation of all mail bound to and from the island community of North Ronaldsay. 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. This could make them well suited to help Royal Mail better service remote island communities and provide deliveries in all weathers while also helping to protect some of our most beautiful environments.
SATEThe trial is part of the Sustainable Aviation Test Environment (SATE) project based at Kirkwall Airport operated by Highlands and Islands Limited (HIAL) in the Orkney Islands, Scotland. The Windracers UAV trials will demonstrate how this technology can be used to provide real-life service demands and improve connectivity between remote communities.
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.
Royal Mail’s previous drone trialsThis 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 remote 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.
Windracers team prepare the ULTRA UAV at Kirkwall Airport (Credit Colin Keldie, Coutesy of SATE).
The trial will also test the environmental benefits of this technology, as part of the Company’s continued drive to reduce emissions associated with its operations.
With the UK’s largest “Feet on the Street” network of over 85,000 postmen and women, Royal Mail already has the lowest reported CO2e emissions per parcel amongst major UK delivery companies. The expansion of alternative fuel vehicles also demonstrates the company’s commitment to reducing emissions associated with its operations, and to delivering a cleaner future.
The trial and 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.
Sarah Moore, local postwoman for North Ronaldsay, 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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
— Dougie Cook, HIAL’s General Manager North
For journalist enquiries contact:Jasmin Prichard, Royal Mail press office Email: email@example.com
Note to editors The UAV will depart from Kirkwall Airport, Orkney Islands to North Ronaldsay, Orkney Islands. The trial is taking place for two weeks from Monday 4th October 2021 to Friday 15th October 2021, with flights taking place on weekdays.
About Royal Mail plcRoyal Mail plc is the parent company of Royal Mail Group Limited, the leading provider of postal and delivery services in the UK and the UK’s designated universal postal service provider. UK Parcels, International and Letters (“UKPIL”) comprises the company’s UK and international parcels and letters delivery businesses operating under the “Royal Mail” and “Parcelforce Worldwide” brands. Through the Royal Mail Core Network, the company delivers a one-price-goes-anywhere service on a range of parcels and letters products. Royal Mail has the capability to deliver to around 31 million addresses in the UK, six days a week (excluding UK public holidays). Parcelforce Worldwide operates a separate UK network which collects and delivers express parcels. Royal Mail also owns General Logistics Systems (GLS) which operates one of the largest ground-based, deferred parcel delivery networks in Europe.
About Windracers Ltd Windracers provides transportation services to the humanitarian aid, research and environmental protection communities using its ULTRA UAV’s (Uncrewed Aerial Vehicles). The ULTRA UAV produced by Windracers has been developed at the University of Southampton funded by Windracers. This twin-engine design will be capable of flying large volume payloads of up to 100kg for 1,000km and operating from a range of landing sites. The UAV has primarily been designed to distribute humanitarian aid.
Distributed Avionics (DA), part of the Windracers group, specialises in high reliability flight control systems for UAVs. The DA autopilot uses patent-pending MasterlessTM technology to bring unparalleled levels of safety to UAV platforms. The DA cloud-based mission management software offers users connectivity to their UAV platforms from anywhere in the world.
Windracers have been awarded Innovate UK funding for the project, which represents the first wave of projects totalling £33.5 million funding through the UK Government’s Future Flight Challenge (FFC). Over the next few years, The FFC will distribute £125 million from the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF). The FFC aims to accelerate the UK’s position as a world leader in revolutionising how people, goods and services fly. It focuses on the development and demonstration of a novel integrated aviation system that enables the safe operation of new classes of air vehicles. These include air taxis, drones and regional aircraft using electric or autonomous technologies. The Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund aims to bring together researchers and businesses to tackle the big societal and industrial challenges of today.
Find out more at www.windracers.org
About SATE:SATE is the UK’s first aviation test centre based in a commercial airport environment in Kirkwall, Orkney. Launched as part of UKRI’s Future Flight Challenge, the project will test different types of low-carbon aircraft to identify the next generation of air services as well as the operational airport infrastructure necessary to support sustainable aviation.
Led by HIAL, the SATE project brings together an international consortium of 13 partners including aviation industry specialists, local Orkney and Caithness businesses, public sector bodies and academia.
SATE’s technology partners — Ampaire, ZeroAvia, Loganair, Windracers and Flarebright — will trial a host of exciting new transport options. This will include testing low-carbon aircraft using electric, hydrogen or Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF) to replace conventional fossil fuels, as well as drone applications for supplying on-demand medical supplies to health centres.
The European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC), Denchi Group, Orkney-based Cloudnet, Air Service Training, University of the Highlands and Islands, The Highlands and Islands Transport Partnership (HITRANS), Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), and Orkney Islands Council complete the partnership.
About Highlands and Islands Airports Limited:Highlands and Islands Airports Limited (HIAL) run a network of 11 regional airports across Scotland located at: Barra, Benbecula, Campbeltown, Dundee, Inverness, Islay, Kirkwall, Stornoway, Sumburgh, Tiree and Wick John O’Groats.
Working with our stakeholders, we are committed to supporting the essential socio-economic role of aviation in Scotland by maintaining and developing our airports and the connections they provide for some of our country’s more remote communities.
HIAL’s airports provide lifeline and emergency services and acts as regional travel hubs for their communities, supporting services including oil and gas; mail delivery and lighthouse maintenance alongside passenger transit. Our airports connect the communities we serve to UK and International destinations including Amsterdam, London, Dublin, Edinburgh and Glasgow.
As a private limited company wholly owned by the Scottish Ministers, HIAL receives subsidies from the Scottish Government in accordance with section 34 of the Civil Aviation Act 1982 and is sponsored by Transport Scotland – Aviation, Maritime, Freight and Canals Directorate.
Kirkwall Airport is particularly suited to acting as a test environment location as it offers a variety of short routes, connecting Orkney’s island communities through short hops to inter-island airfields. For example, the connection to Westray – best known for being one of the two airports joined by the shortest scheduled flight in the world and operated by Orkney Island Council.
About UK Research and Innovation: UK Research and Innovation is a new body which works in partnership with universities, research organisations, businesses, charities, and government to create the best possible environment for research and innovation to flourish. It aims to maximise the contribution of each of the component parts, working individually and collectively. UKRI works with many partners to benefit everyone through knowledge, talent and ideas. For more information visit www.ukri.org
About Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund: The Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund aims to bring together the UK’s world leading research with business to meet the major industrial and societal challenges of our time. The fund was created to provide funding and support to UK businesses and researchers, part of the government’s £4.7 billion increase in research and development over the next four years. It was designed to ensure that research and innovation takes centre stage in the Government’s modern Industrial Strategy. It is run by UK Research and Innovation.