Airbus Helicopters has tapped Singapore post office SingPost as its partner to trial an unmanned aerial package delivery system in Singapore.

The Skyways programme is being undertaken under the auspices of the manufacturer’s efforts to develop what it calls “urban air mobility.”

The project will see small, eight-propeller drones travel pre-set courses to deliver packages to central distribution areas. The two parties signed a memorandum of understanding for the project at the Singapore Airshow in 2016.

Airbus Helicopters executive vice-president of engineering and chief technical officer, Jean-Brice Dumont, says that Airbus will act as the overall systems architect and provider. Research and development is at an “advanced stage” and initial trial will run at the National University of Singapore by early 2018.

When asked if the initiative is part of a longer-term objective to provide more helicopter services in cities, Dumont says: “We are already engaged in urban air mobility, with helicopters flying over cities, but in a highly regulated way. We are used to urban mobility environment, and now we are approaching it another way, from the bottom up.”

He adds that electrically powered helicopters will be a reality at some point, and that this could have implications for the concept of urban air taxis. “Perhaps there can be something around small platform with nobody on board, and at the end both ends may meet.”