Drones in the United Kingdom: A 10-Year UK Drone Industry Outlook

The year 2020 has been challenging, to say the least.

The human and economic toll of the global pandemic has had a lasting impact on us all. Hardly any industries in the UK have remained untouched by COVID-19. During lockdown, around 7.6 million jobs are at risk—a term used to encompass permanent layoffs, temporary furloughs, and reductions in hours and pay.

As a result, the UK’s GDP for 2020 is expected to shrink by 9 percent overall.

Is the Drone Industry a Saving Grace for the UK Economy?

As 2020 continues to wind down, a sense of relief can be felt as a challenging year is coming to a close.

While some industries — such as accommodations, food services, and retail — have significantly suffered, others have been more resilient. The UAV industry has fared relatively well in these trying times, and has a positive outlook for the coming decade.

Recent estimates project that, by 2030, drones will have a significant impact on the UK economy. The UAV industry is poised to increase the UK’s GDP by £42 billion and create a net cost savings for the economy of £16 billion.

Even more promising, given the furloughs caused by the pandemic, is the potential for job creation. By 2030, jobs within the UK drone industry should reach 628,000, with over 76,000 drones operating in British skies.

Drone photo of London, England

Why is the Drone Industry Growing So Much in the UK?

It is important to explore the reasons for this projected growth and positive economic contribution.

An understanding of the “why” will help you make the decision to investigate how you too can benefit from drones. The beneficial applications of drone technology produce cost-savings and improved efficiencies. The UK is taking advantage of several of these benefits to manage costs, lower risk, and improve safety.

The challenges of current conditions in the UK, and globally, will force many businesses and civic organizations to streamline budgets and innovate to stay alive.

Drones are one of the tools major industries are working with in the UK to do just that. Further expansion of their use is inevitable.

The UK’s oil and gas industry serves as an excellent example of why drones will continue to produce significant economic returns. Over the past 50 years, the industry has generated over 300,000 jobs, with around 60% of these staying within the United Kingdom.

The same period also accounts for an estimated £330 billion in production tax.

RECENT ARTICLE: Ultimate Guide to UK Drone Licenses & Regulations in 2020 and Beyond

Cost management in the oil and gas industry is best illustrated through the reduction of downtime. Imagine the daily operations on an offshore oil rig.

These engineering marvels are capable of retrieving vast amounts of resources from the ocean floor. They require extensive preventative maintenance. Many of the areas that need to be inspected are very dangerous for people.

Flare stacks, which are used for burning off flammable gases released by safety valves, require frequent inspections. When humans inspect these structures, the system must be turned off.

Drones, on the other hand, can conduct these inspections while the stack is still live. In some cases, keeping the flare stacks live can save an estimated £4 million per day.

Detecting some issues before they become significant problems helps to lower risk. Drones are now being equipped with gas detection equipment to survey pipelines and other structures with pressurized gases.

Early detection saves lives, reduces repair costs, and prevents major environmental disasters.

Drones have a positive impact on safety by reducing human exposure to unsafe conditions. Working at heights is one of the most significant contributors to workplace death and injury in the UK. Drones can inspect equipment hundreds of meters high without any risk to people.

Bringing It All Together

Benefits such as those listed above are by no means unique to the oil and gas industry. Many of the UK’s largest industries, such as utilities, public defense, health, agriculture, and construction, benefit from UAV technology for similar reasons.

Additional positive benefits for the UK, which also translate into increased UAVs utilization, can be seen in applications that benefit British citizens. Drones are seeing use by law enforcement, emergency medicine, and research.

Drones that transport medical supplies during a pandemic, such as those on the Isle of Wight, serve the greater good. Additionally, they create jobs and increase productivity.

These examples illustrate why drones are projected to have such a lasting and significant impact on the UK’s economy. With a growing list of use cases and more businesses taking a look at how they too can benefit from UAV technology, drones in the UK have a bright future for the coming decade.

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David Daly - Contributing Author

David Daly - Contributing Author

David Daly, is an award-winning photographer/writer and licensed (FAA) Commercial sUAS pilot. A graduate of the United States Naval Academy, David is a former Marine Corps officer with a BS in Oceanography and has earned his MBA from the University of Redlands. David has worked for Fortune 100 companies and has a background in aerospace, construction, military/defense, real estate, and technology.

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Pandemic-fueled innovation: an overview of recent drone delivery breakthroughs

We’ve written previously about how the pandemic has accelerated the development of drone solutions for contact-free delivery, surveillance, enforcement, and hygiene applications.

We’ve gone so far as to suggest that progress in drone medical delivery solutions might be quickly followed by progress in retail delivery solutions. Over the past several weeks, we’ve seem to be seeing this play out, with multiple major retailers reaching new milestones in their drone delivery programs and an uptick in public support for drone delivery.

In this article, I’ll summarize these exciting developments.

An uptick in demand and regulatory cooperation

Before COVID-19, the research firm MarketsandMarkets estimated that drone delivery (both air and ground-based) would generate revenue of around $800M in 2020.

More recently, the firm has updated those estimates to $1 billion and has revised its forecast for 2022 from $1.6 to $2.2 billion. According to the Economist, many other analysts agree with these estimates.

On top of this, regulators have been more flexible than ever in granting exemptions and authorizations for drone delivery programs. For instance, in Canada, authorities have given authorization to a coalition of companies who are using drones to safely supply the remote Beausoleil First Nation and other First Nations.

Similarly, in April, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration granted exemptions to its commercial drone prohibitions to 30 companies. And in March, the UK, government allocated millions to support the development of drone delivery solutions that would serve the Isle of Wight during the pandemic. 

Moving past these general trends, let’s take a look at some “success stories” about global leaders in retail that seem to be accelerating their delivery programs during these challenging times.

Amazon

On Aug. 29, Amazon finally received federal approval to operate its fleet of Prime Air delivery drones. According to the FAA, the approval will give Amazon broad privileges to “safely and efficiently deliver packages to customers.”

While the Prime Air fleet isn’t ready to immediately deploy drone deliveries at scale, representatives say that it is actively flying and testing the technology.

Walmart

On Sept. 9, Walmart launched a pilot project which will focus on delivering select grocery and household essential items from Walmart stores using the Israeli firm Flytrex’s automated drones in Fayetteville, N.C. 

Representatives at the world’s biggest retailer have been tight-lipped on details of the program, so it’s not clear how many drones are involved in the pilot and what checks (if any) customers need to make before receiving a delivery.

That said, Flyrex boasts that its delivery drones are the optimal solution for suburb environments, so it would follow that remote customers or city-dwellers might not be the best candidates to test the service at this stage of development.

While this type of delivery solution has been tested since 2015, and thus cannot be fully attributed to the pandemic, there are a few use cases that Walmart seems to have launched directly in response to COVID-19.

On Sept. 22, Walmart announced a partnership with Quest Diagnostics and DroneUp, whereby it would perform deliveries of COVID-19 test collection kits in North Las Vegas (in September) and Cheektowaga, New York (in early October.)

The program will serve eligible patients who live in a single-family residence within a 1-mile radius of the designated Supercenters in North Las Vegas and Cheektowaga. And given that Walmart owns the UK supermarket chain Asda, it has been suggested that the solutions could expand to the UK. 

Beyond that, according to Tom Ward, Walmart’s senior vice president of consumer products, Walmart hopes that drone delivery of self-collection kits “will shape contactless testing capabilities on a larger scale and continue to bolster the innovative ways Walmart plans to use drone delivery in the future.” 

Walgreens and Wing

Walgreens and Wing, (owned by Alphabet, Google’s parent company), have been partnering since September 2019 to test “store to door” delivery of products via drone.

As part of this partnership, Wing has been delivering “health and wellness, food and beverage and convenience items” to Walgreens customers in Christiansburg, Va. 

Once the pandemic hit, the company expanded their offering to meet the residents’ mounting needs. Their offerings now include more kid-friendly products like crayons, markers and games; food staples such as pasta, canned soup and mac and cheese; and household cleaning supplies such as facial tissue and, you guessed it, toilet paper.

For Christiansburg residents, the drone delivery service had already been a novelty, but many families reported that once the pandemic hit, it became a source of entertainment, inspiration, and distraction for antsy kids and worried parents alike.

Some families reported ordering a weekly lunch from Walgreens, and others said they ordered things they didn’t really need simply for an excuse to watch a drone come to their house. 

Anecdotes aside, Wing reports that its drone delivery orders in Virginia and Australia rose precipitously when stay-at-home orders were put in place in March and April. Since Wing has been met with privacy concerns and noise complaints by certain residents in Canberra, Australia, one of its first test sites, the rapid increase in demand suggests that the company is finally winning the public over there.

Tesco and Manna Aero

Meanwhile Tesco, the UK’s biggest retailer, is working with Manna, a drone delivery startup based in Dublin, Ireland, to kick off a six-month drone delivery trial starting in October .

The trial will consist of delivering “small baskets” of essentials from its Oranmore store in Co Galway, Ireland, where Manna has a license to operate. Ultimately, Tesco representatives claim that the aim is to develop the capability of delivering these small baskets to customers within 30 minutes to an hour of ordering, a capability which the company thinks will expand their reach to include potential customers for whom getting to the store is inconvenient or difficult.

Manna, for its part, had planned a takeaway food delivery trial in March but changed its focus to medicines during the coronavirus pandemic. Since April, it has been working with the Health Service Executive to deliver medicines and other essential supplies to vulnerable people in the small rural town of Moneygall.

The Path Forward

There are two key mechanisms through which the pandemic seems to be accelerating the development and deployment of drone delivery solutions. 

First, because the pandemic has made contactless delivery a necessity, not just a nice-to-have feature, it is leading to the resolution (or at least temporary suspension) of technical and regulatory blockers to progress. 

Second, the pandemic is providing a fantastic PR opportunity to retailers that want to promote their drone delivery solutions and develop goodwill with the public.

By accelerating the development and social acceptance of drone delivery services, the pandemic seems to be helping retailers, regulators, and drone solutions providers to kick drone delivery up a notch.

Hopefully, they can maintain momentum once the pandemic is over.

Miriam Hinthorn - Contributing Author

Miriam Hinthorn - Contributing Author

Miriam Hinthorn is an experienced management professional who is currently pursuing her master’s in Data, Economics, and Development Policy at MIT while serving as principal consultant at Consult92.

Miriam developed a love for UAS technology when she served as operations manager at Consortiq. Today, having completed over 30 successful projects in 10 countries, she loves solving a wide variety of logistical, technical, and cultural challenges for her clients so that they can focus on what care about most.

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Drones take medical supplies to new heights during pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced governments and other stakeholders to explore how innovative technologies can assist in the fight against the virus. 

Some of the most exciting and promising solutions have come from within the UAV community.

From disinfecting public areas to delivering much needed medical supplies, drones are on the frontlines of the current healthcare battlefield.  

Drones are not only helping with the current global health challenge, but have extended medicine’s reach for several years now. UAVs have assisted doctors around the world since around 2014. The versatility of the platform makes drones highly adaptable to a wide range of use cases. 

In emergency medicine, vaccinations, and other specialties, UAVs are becoming indispensable tools to medical and healthcare professionals. A few examples are listed below.

Disinfectiong Public Spaces

As the COVID-19 pandemic began in Wuhan, China, it was clear the crisis required pulling out all the stops. 

One of the first UAV companies to respond was Shenzhen, China based DJI. For several years, the company has utilized its drones for public safety efforts. As the virus spread and researchers determined COVID-19 could survive on hard surfaces, it was clear a disinfection plan for open spaces was needed.

DJI utilized drones designed to spray pesticides for the agricultural industry to address the issue. Public spaces, such as parks and bus stations, have been covered in disinfectants delivered from the air. Drones can spray an area more efficiently than people and keep cleaning personnel out of harm’s way. 

While the method still needs to be researched for overall effectiveness, it provides a model for cleaning public areas in the future.

Emergency Medicine

Modern medicine has drastically increased life expectancy. 

In 1950, the average life expectancy globally was around 48 years. By 2012, the average was 70 years. Much of the improvement in this number is a result of lower response times to medical emergencies. 

On April 19, 2019, the world’s first successful drone supported organ transplant occurredin Baltimore, Md. A specially designed UAV flew a human kidney to the University of Maryland Medical Center, where doctors transplanted the organ into a 44-year-old Baltimore woman.

In another use case, Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) have been affixed to drones as early as 2014, when a graduate student in the Netherlands looked to lower emergency response times for heart attack victims. Companies like Reno, Nevada’s Flirtey, are currently working with government agencies to test out drone delivered AEDs in the United States.  

Initial results are promising.

Medical Supply Delivery

Around the world, drones are delivering medications and critical supplies. 

Since 2014, Zipline has used drones in Rwanda and Ghana to provide blood and vaccines to rural regions. In some cases, what would have taken a traveling doctor three days to deliver across the jungle now takes 30 minutes.

In response to COVID-19, UAVs are delivering prescriptions to patients at home to respect social distancing policies. UPS and pharmacy giant CVS have teamed up in Florida to provide medications to the elderly via drones. Manna Aero has been doing the same in rural communities within Ireland. 

The ability to provide supplies without direct human interaction is very appealing to both the doctor and the patient.   

In a time when human to human contact must be limited, drones are an ideal solution to providing medicine at a distance. The current global climate in response to the pandemic will likely accelerate the use of UAVs in this space.

Planning For a Safe Future

The current innovative uses for UAVs are only scratching the surface of potential applications in the medical field. 

For organizations exploring how drones can support their business model in the changing environment, safety should always be the primary concern.

Prior to testing drones, conduct a safety audit and develop a safety plan. Ensure operators are trained properly, establish standard operating procedures for events such as accidents and investigations, create logbooks & records, and ensure qualification requirements are met.

Drones have already had a lasting positive impact on the medical community. As new challenges from COVID-19 arise UAVs may provide many of the solutions. 

Ensuring we approach these challenges in a safe manner will facilitate the best outcome for all stakeholders. 

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About Consortiq

Consortiq is a global market leader of custom drone solutions. Our employees are driven by a mission to help corporations and state organisations leverage drone technology to accelerate progress and achieve the success they desire. At Consortiq, we base our solutions on intensive quantitative and qualitative research, hard facts, and deep subject matter expertise. As a talented group of drone and manned aircraft pilots, software engineers, defense consultants, and former air traffic control professionals, Consortiq’s employees understand the intricacies of aerial platforms and are able to provide a wide range of nuanced, effective solutions. 

We have a strong track record of providing training, logistical operations planning, fleet management software, risk mitigation, and legal/regulatory services, to clients in the media, public infrastructure, and public safety industries in Europe, North America, and the Middle East.

Our accredited training program helps pilots prepare and go beyond the US Part 107 and the UK PfCO. 

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David Daly - Contributing Author

David Daly - Contributing Author

David Daly, is an award-winning photographer/writer and licensed (FAA) Commercial sUAS pilot. A graduate of the United States Naval Academy, David is a former Marine Corps officer with a BS in Oceanography and has earned his MBA from the University of Redlands. David has worked for Fortune 100 companies and has a background in aerospace, construction, military/defense, real estate, and technology.
Miriam developed a love for UAS technology when she served as operations manager at Consortiq. Today, having completed over 30 successful projects in 10 countries, she loves solving a wide variety of logistical, technical, and cultural challenges for her clients so that they can focus on what care about most.

Ready to Integrate Drones Into Your Organization? Contact Us Today to Get Started!

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