First commercial mail drone delivery service launches in Orkney Islands


Royal Mail has launched the UK’s first mail drone delivery service permitted to run commercially, Orkney I-Port.

There have been previous projects and trials testing the use of drones as mail delivery vehicles, but this is the first time a service has gained permission to run past the three-month timeframe allocated by regulators. Thanks to the unique landscape of Orkney and the proximity of the islands to one another, flights can be conducted using extended visual line of sight (EVLOS) permissions rather than beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) permissions.

Chris Paxton, head of Drone Trials at Royal Mail, said: “We are proud to be working with Skyports to deliver via drone to some of the more remote communities that we serve in the UK. Using a fully electric drone supports Royal Mail’s continued drive to reduce emissions associated with our operations, whilst connecting the island communities we deliver to.” 

The service, launched in conjunction with Skyports Drone Services, Loganair and Orkney Islands Council Harbour Authority, is currently looking for funding to continue operations beyond an initial three-month window. 

Letters and parcels will be transported from Royal Mail’s Kirkwall delivery office to Stromness, from where Skyports will operate drone deliveries to Royal Mail staff on Graemsay and Hoy. From these locations, postal workers will then carry out their usual deliveries. Due to adverse weather often stopping ferry crossings, I-Port improves service levels and access for rural communities, significantly shortening delivery times to Graemsay and Hoy. The I-Port is one of the nine winning projects of the Freight Innovation Fund Accelerator, a programme funded by the Department for Transport. Skyports received £150,000 of grant funding to test Orkney I-Port operation as a part of the programme.

Alex Brown, director, Skyports Drone Services, said: “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.”

The Brazilian drone manufacturer will provide its DLV-2 aircraft for Skyports’ projects, starting with the inter-island delivery flights on the Orkney I-Port project. The electric multirotor drone, which has a payload capacity of 6kg and a range of up to 16km, was chosen for its large payload volume, which makes it well suited to carrying cargo such as Royal Mail parcels. First deliveries were completed in July this year and will continue until October. The aircraft is also equipped with a parachute.

“Our partnership with Skyports Drone Services is a source of immense pride for Speedbird Aero,” said Manoel Coelho, CEO of Speedbird Aero. “Together, we will bring unrivalled efficiency to every drone logistics project we undertake, unlocking new possibilities for Classified: RMG – Public businesses and communities alike. Our focus on sustainability and innovation will pave the way for a greener and more connected future.”