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Community / Mail deliveries by drone set to take off in Shetland

As part of a UK-wide initiative letters and parcels will be transported to island communities before local posties head out on their delivery run

A drone being loaded up with mail during its Shetland trial. Photo: Royal Mail

MAIL being transported by large drones to islands is set to become a reality in Shetland in the coming years.

Royal Mail has announced that more than 50 postal drone routes will be opened up across the UK in conjunction with drone company Windracers – and Shetland, as well as other island communities, will be among the first to benefit.

It follows trials of the technology between Tingwall Airport and Unst, and Kirkwall and Fair Isle.

A spokesperson for Royal Mail said details of the Shetland routes under consideration have yet to be finalised.

The hope is that delivering letters and parcels by unmanned drones will reduce carbon emissions and also improve the reliability of island mail services.

The first routes identified for the new service include the Isles of Scilly, Shetland Islands, Orkney Islands and the Hebrides.

Subject to CAA approval and the on-going planned improvement in UAV economics, Royal Mail is aiming to secure more than 50 drone routes supported by up to 200 drones over the next three years.

Longer term, the ambition is to deploy a fleet of more than 500 drones servicing all corners of the UK.

With a capability to fly in difficult weather conditions, the twin-engine drones used in the trial has a wingspan of 10 metres and incorporates a high-reliability autopilot system.

They can carry up to 100kg of mail of all shapes and sizes for two daily return flights between the islands. Letters and parcels are then delivered by the local postie.

Royal Mail CEO Simon Thompson said: “On time delivery regardless of our customers location or the weather, whilst protecting our environment is our goal.

“Even though we go everywhere, Royal Mail already has the lowest CO2 emissions per parcel delivered, this initiative will help reduce our emissions even further.”

Stephen Wright, chairman at Windracers Group, said: “The middle mile of supply and logistics, especially to remote locations, has long been overlooked by the industry and is ripe for innovation.

“We’ve spent the last five years focused on developing the most commercially viable essential logistics drones so we’re truly delighted to be working with Royal Mail on this ambitious and pioneering deployment of autonomous aircraft. It puts the UK firmly at the forefront of this exciting sector.”