Drones have been around for a lot longer than many people realise. Initially developed during the 20th century for those military missions that were considered too dangerous or dirty for humans, they quickly became an essential military asset. As the technology to produce them became cheaper, their use branched out into many other industries, from aerial photography for land surveys to cheaper domestic drones for amateur enthusiasts, and, most recently, to the delivery industry.
The rise of delivery by drone is the most recent phenomenon, with many companies planning to use drone delivery services within the next few years. Figures collected by Statista.com suggest that in 2019 the UK drone package share of the delivery system market was worth around 9.7 million £. This refers to retail, food, postal, medical aids and other forms of delivery. The same statistics estimate that by 2030 may reach as high as 358 million £, with medical aid deliveries and retail goods delivery outstripping all other drone delivery sectors by a significant margin.
In a recent announcement, BT, the Telecoms giant, has announced an investment of £5 million in Altitude Angel, a company whose scheme, Project Skyway, will see the introduction of a drone corridor of 165 miles encompassing Oxford, Reading, Cambridge, Milton Keynes, Rugby and Coventry – this will be the first “superhighway” of its kind in the UK and a promise for the future.
Drone delivery certainly offers some advantages to businesses, in particular SMEs. Delivering to out-of-the-way and difficult-to-reach locations will be much easier using drones. Perhaps even more of a selling point for the service is the fact that drones are far less likely to get stuck in traffic jams which can delay more traditional delivery methods.
Of course, there are some potential risks when you consider drones over more traditional delivery methods. With a prediction that by 2030 there could be as many as 76,000 delivery drones in the sky, preventing collisions could be a problem. Inclement weather issues may also be problematic for droner delivery and even deliveries to properties where no one is in. Drones in this final scenario may not have the ability to leave parcels in a safe place like a parcel store and may have to attempt delivery a second time, making them less cost-effective.
Whilst drone delivery may have an impact on the delivery industry here in the UK, it will take a significant number of years before there is any real competition. Drones can only deliver a very small number of parcels and nothing too heavy. This will mean there will certainly be a place for road-based deliveries alongside drones. What it will do, however, is make it much easier and more cost-effective to deliver to those out-of-the-way areas.
There are not currently any specific regulations regarding delivery by drone. However, commercial drone operations do require permission from the CAA. If drone delivery does become commonplace, it would be reasonable to assume that as this sector of the industry grows, there may be a need for further regulations to be put in place.