In mid-December, 2020, an unmanned Flylogix aircraft made a 60-mile (97-kilometre) round trip from Land’s End Airport in Cornwall, England to St Mary’s Airport on the largest of the UK’s Scilly Isles.
Unlike other cross-water flights, however, this flight saw the 40kg drone transport an NHS supply box during its outbound flight, making it one of the very first ‘commercial’ drone flights to complete a trip of this kind. The return route saw the drone (officially known as an unmanned aerial vehicle, or UAV) fly back to Cornwall while loaded with local Scilly produce, which included gin and flowers.
Drone Freight Services
The late-2020 test flight was the result of a collaboration between Flylogix and the Isles of Scilly Steamship Company (ISSC), which owns Land’s End Airport and has maintained this link between Cornwall and Scilly for over 100 years.
A spokesperson for the ISSC said that the flight “paves the way” for a “new lifeline connection” with the remote islands that sit off the coast of Cornwall. Currently, most freight is shipped over to the islands, with some being transported alongside passengers on aeroplanes. Drones, on the other hand, could carry—on-demand—urgent items such as medical supplies and vehicle parts between England and the Isles of Scilly at much shorter notice and much more cheaply.
The Flylogix unmanned aerial vehicle prepares to take off, having been loaded with cargo to transport between the UK’s Cornwall and the Scilly Isles.
Image credit: Flylogix
During its flight, the UAV was controlled remotely by a fully qualified pilot with the assistance of an autopilot (just as one would expect during a manned flight) and a sophisticated geo-location system. The UAV flew at a fixed height to ensure that it remained separate from any regular manned flights travelling along the same ‘air corridor’.
Said Bruce Daniel, a Pathology Service Manager at the Royal Cornwall Hospital in Truro: “I can really see the potential of what it could offer. The drone would be less affected by the weather and could fly in much more foggy conditions. We could use it to transport all different types of blood products from the islands to the mainland. I can see all sorts of benefits both from an islander and pathology perspective”.
A Full Commercial Operation
Following the successful maiden flight, there have reportedly been discussions to introduce a daily freight service between the English mainland and Scilly beginning as early as the of summer 2021. If an initial three-month trial is successful, a fully commercial operation using a bespoke Flylogix drone could be launched within two years after the fact.
According to Stuart Reid, the chief executive of the ISSC, this flight shows that a drone freight service is, aside from being technically feasible, a clear demonstration of the increasing demand for the delivery of time-sensitive and high-value items (particularly to relatively isolated island communities). On top of this, Reid also pointed to the environmental benefits of such technology, having cited that unmanned aircraft like the Flylogix UAV have the potential to produce up to 98% fewer emissions than their human-piloted counterparts.