A pioneering drone delivery flight has paved the way for a new lifeline connection with the idyllic yet remote Isles of Scilly and opened up the prospect of drone operations between airports across the UK.

Yesterday's successful return flight from Land’s End Airport in West Cornwall to St Mary’s Airport on the Isles of Scilly was the first ever freight drone flight between two UK commercial airports.

Specially sanctioned by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), it is breaking new ground in helping to establish rules for drones to operate along an existing and well used commercial air corridor, across two Air Traffic Control areas.

While only 30 miles in distance each way, the flight took the unmanned aircraft over some of the UK’s most rugged scenery and out over the Atlantic, carrying an NHS supply box on the outward leg, and returning with a selection of local produce from the islands, including flowers and artisan gin.

The project is a collaboration between the Isles of Scilly Steamship Company, which for more than 100 years has provided transportation to the islands, and Hampshire-based UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) company Flylogix, experts in full-service over horizon operations.

They have entered 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.

The Isles of Scilly have a population of around 2,200 people who rely entirely on air and sea links for their supplies. Tourism accounts for around 85% of the local economy, with over 100,000 visitors every year, lured by the islands’ stunning natural environment, mild climate and relaxed pace of life.

Stuart Reid, Chief Executive of the Isles of Scilly Steamship Company which has provided a link from the Cornish mainland to Scilly since 1920 and owns Land’s End Airport, said: “When a group of islanders formed the Steamship Company all those years ago they scarcely could have imagined today’s amazing milestone, delivering goods using an unmanned aircraft.

“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.”

Following the successful proving flight 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.

Charles Tavner, Executive Chairman of Flylogix, said: “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. Truly valuable services must be informed by what a community really needs so we are delighted to partner with the Steamship Company to build this new service together”

Yesterday's outbound flight carried an NHS supply box, demonstrating how a drone could be used to carry essential items like medicines, tissue samples and tests to and from the islands.

Bruce Daniel is a Pathology Service Manager at the Royal Cornwall Hospital in Truro which performs around nine million tests a year. He is also Incident Director for Covid for the NHS South One Network, covering Devon and Cornwall. He said: “Drone delivery immediately struck me as a possible solution to get any type of pathology sample to the mainland. It also offers the ability to reduce turnaround times for Covid-19 testing for people on the islands.

“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.”

For its return flight to Land’s End Airport the drone was packed with a variety of produce from the Isles of Scilly including flowers, gin, clothing and hand sanitiser.