Royal Mail is to trial the use of drones to deliver health and safety equipment, Covid testing kits and other items to the Isles of Scilly.
The company said it will be first time an out-of-sight, autonomous scheduled drone flight has been used between the UK mainland and an island.
Part of the trial will also include inter-island parcel deliveries across the Scillies.
The Government-funded project, which has been developed in partnership with DronePrep, Skyports, Consortiq Limited, the University of Southampton, Excalibur Healthcare Services and Windracers Limited, will initially focus on delivering personal protective equipment (PPE) and testing kits to the islands’ most vulnerable and remote communities.
Parcels will be flown to the islands’ airport in St Mary’s by drone which can carry up to 220lb (100kg) of mail at a time – equivalent to a typical delivery round.
A smaller drone will then be used to transport items to a number of delivery points throughout the islands.
This is part of our constant drive to incorporate the best and most innovative technologies into our networkNick Landon, Royal Mail
The autonomous flight route involves being around 70 miles (113km) out of sight before it reaches its destination.
Royal Mail said if the trial is successful, the technology will be considered to support postmen and postwomen in delivering to remote areas across the UK.
The trial will also examine what fuel efficiencies the drones could provide, as part of the company’s drive to reduce emissions associated with its operations.
Amy Richards, a postwoman on the Isles of Scilly, said: “There are some really remote areas on these islands, and this is a terrific way to help us reach them.
“It’s really important for us to do all we can to help all areas of the country stay connected, especially in these difficult times.”
Royal Mail chief commercial officer Nick Landon said: “This is part of our constant drive to incorporate the best and most innovative technologies into our network.
“We’ve seen a huge increase in parcel volumes since the start of the pandemic, and this is just one of the ways we are looking to support our postmen and postwomen in delivering fast and convenient services for all of our customers while reducing our carbon emissions.”
Transport Minister Rachel Maclean said: “The UK is already a world leader when it comes to innovation in aviation and today’s announcement is an exciting step forward for Royal Mail.
“The Future Flight Challenge is offering real-life solutions for significant issues such as public health, by bringing together innovative technologies.
“This is crucial as we look to build back better and tackle climate change.”