Orkney I-Port Project Introduces Daily Inter-Island Mail Distribution via Drones
The joint initiative between Royal Mail and Skyports Drone Services, known as the Orkney I-Port operation, has launched a daily inter-island mail distribution service in Orkney, UK. This innovative project enables letters and parcels to be transported from Royal Mail’s Kirkwall delivery office to Stromness. From there, Skyports Drone Services dispatches drone deliveries to Royal Mail staff stationed on the islands of Graemsay and Hoy, who then distribute the mail to homes and businesses.
Initially planned to operate for three months, the intention is to extend the service. Royal Mail claims this is the first UK drone delivery project that can be conducted on a permanent basis under existing regulatory frameworks, thanks to the unique landscape of Orkney and the close proximity of the islands to each other. This enables the drones to operate under visual line of sight (EVLOS) permissions, avoiding the need for beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) permissions.
The drone used in this project is the Speedbird Aero DLV-2 aircraft, a multirotor drone with a payload capacity of up to 6kg. The use of drones proves particularly advantageous in Orkney due to the region’s challenging weather conditions, which often disrupt traditional mail transportation methods via ferries. By adopting drones, the delivery times to Graemsay and Hoy are significantly reduced.
Alex Brown, Director of Skyports Drone Services, highlighted the benefits of the technology, stating, “By leveraging drone technology, we are revolutionising mail services in remote communities, providing more efficient and timely delivery, and helping to reduce the requirement for emissions-producing vehicles. We’re pleased to once again be partnering with Royal Mail to demonstrate how drone operations can benefit UK logistics on this project. The I-Port project also marks an exciting milestone as it is the first operation we are completing with aircraft partner Speedbird.”
Rt. Hon. Alistair Carmichael MP for Orkney and Shetland expressed support for the drone tests and the potential benefits they bring to remote communities. While acknowledging the project is still in the trial stage, he emphasized the importance of exploring solutions that can maintain the universal mail service, especially in harder-to-reach areas of the isles.
The Orkney I-Port operation received £150,000 in funding from the Department for Transport’s Freight Innovation Fund Accelerator program to test and implement the initiative.
While this project represents a tangible example of how drones can play a role in various industries, there are regulatory barriers that need attention. The unique geography of the islands allows for EVLOS permissions, but further regulatory developments may be required to enable broader and safer drone deployments. Organizations like The Drone Delivery Group and BT have submitted proposals to the government, urging changes in transportation regulations to facilitate the growth of the drone sector in the UK.
Overall, the Orkney I-Port project showcases the potential of drones in improving mail services and logistics in remote regions. As the drone and low-earth orbit (LEO) connectivity sectors expand, it will be crucial for stakeholders to address regulatory challenges and work collaboratively to support the scaling up of drone operations for long-term success and maximum societal benefit.