The future of freight

IoS UAV, Tavner & Reid at Land's End Airport

Flylogix and the Isles of Scilly Steamship Company (ISSC) have announced the success of their UAV flight between Land’s End Airport in Cornwall and St Mary’s Airport on the Isles of Scilly, which was completed on 10th December. The flight carried a NHS supply box outbound and local produce on the return and was the first ever freight drone flight between two UK commercial airports.

“This is a very significant test flight because it paves the way for us to work with the community on Scilly towards a scheduled commercial drone service and breaks new ground in the UK for the integration of unmanned aircraft with manned commercial flights,” explained Charles Tavner, executive chairman of Flylogix.

Flylogix and ISSC have entered into a two-year partnership to develop with the local community what could be the UK’s first scheduled freight delivery service by drone, including plans to develop a larger, purpose-built UAV to meet islanders’ needs. The project is being supported by Cornwall Development Company’s AeroSpace Cornwall programme, who contributed £10k funding towards the test flight.

The UAV used for the project has a wingspan of 3.48m, a range of 500 km, and has an unloaded weight of less than 40kg. With a single 17.5 BHP petrol-driven engine, it has a cruising speed of 70 knots (around 80mph) and a top speed of 90 knots (around 100mph).

The 30 mile journey took around half an hour each way but the flight took the unmanned aircraft over some of the UK’s most rugged scenery and out over the Atlantic.

“We’ve shown that a drone freight service is not only technically feasible but that there is demand for its potential to deliver time-sensitive and high value items for the island community, using aircraft that have 98% fewer emission than a manned equivalent,” explained Stuart Reid, chief executive of the ISSC.

There are plans to introduce a daily drone freight service between the mainland and Scilly next summer for a three-month trial period, and work towards a full commercial operation using a bespoke freight UAV within two years.

“When a group of islanders formed the Steamship Company all those years ago [in 1920] they scarcely could have imagined [this] amazing milestone,” Reid added.

A regular freight service as such would open opportunities for businesses on the Isles. Andrew Walder who runs SC Dogs rum distillery on the island of St Martin’s commented that the drone trial has the potential to unlock true next day delivery for the business, whether that’s for spare parts, fresh yeast deliveries or shipping. “With a service that will potentially be less affected by weather issues than other means of transport, this link could greatly benefit our island community especially when it comes to water sample testing, medical deliveries and other vital supplies,” he commented.

 Flylogix is looking to the skies, and the future, as it is one of just a handful of companies chosen to work with the UK Civil Aviation Authority’s Innovation Team alongside the likes of Amazon and Boeing to help keep the UK’s aviation sector at the forefront of technology development. It is certain the next few years will yield great developments for UAVs in the airfreight sector.