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Community / Large drone to fly between Orkney and Fair Isle as part of new trial

Drone company Windracers also aims to carry out further test flights to Shetland in March next year

The UAV taking off at Kirkwall Airport this week before heading to North Ronaldsay with residents' mail. Photo: Colin Keldie/SATE

A LARGE drone will be flown between Orkney and Fair Isle later this month as part of a trial to increase connectivity to remote communities.

The trial, which forms part of the Sustainable Aviation Test Environment (SATE) project at Kirkwall Airport, is using a large twin-engine unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).

The UAV will be same one which has just started delivering Royal Mail letters and parcels to the island of North Ronaldsay in Orkney in a two-week trial.

But the Fair Isle flights, which will launch in the week commencing 18 October, will not deliver mail to local residents. Instead, they will test the UAV flying longer distances.

Meanwhile Windracers, which provides transportation services to the humanitarian aid, research and environmental protection sectors, aims to also carry out further flights in Shetland next year.

Chief executive officer Charles Scales said this will involve trips between Orkney and Shetland, as well as flying to Unst. Royal Mail may come onboard for these, he added, but the company will also speak to other potential users like the NHS.

It is proposed that the large drone would fly up to 2,000ft.

One possibility is that the UAV could potentially deliver medical supplies to remote health and care providers in the future.

Meanwhile the North Ronaldsay trial is the third drone test Royal Mail has taken part in over the last year. The first was a parcel delivery to a remote lighthouse on the Isle of Mull, and the second was to the Isles of Scilly.

A key aim is for the autonomous flights to reduce emissions compared to current delivery methods.

The UAV can carry 100kg of mail of all sizes for a distance of 1,000km, and when it is flown to North Ronaldsay – which has a population of around 70 – a local postie will distribute the letters and parcels as usual.

They can fly in poor weather conditions, and if the trial is successful, the technology will be considered by Royal Mail in other remote parts of the UK.

Royal Mail chief commercial officer Nick Landon said the North Ronaldsay trial is designed to use the “most innovative technologies to support the remote and isolated communities we serve in the greenest way possible”.

The SATE project is operated by Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (HIAL), and it provides the UK’s first low-carbon aviation test centre embedded in an operational airport.

HIAL’s general manager for the north Dougie Cook 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.”