Whilst COVID-19 may be dominating the news headlines, the drone industry have had a steady stream of good news stories this week.

Research grant

First, we have had the news that a consortium of organisations (including Atkins, Skyports, West of England Combined Authority, Vertical Aerospace and Catapult) have secured an industrial research grant of £2.5 million from the UK Government to look into the feasibility of an air taxi service in the South West Region. The consortium will consider viable markets and the business case for the air taxi service. The aim is to achieve increased mobility, improved connectivity, reduced congestion and greener travel. (https://skyports.net/2021/01/skyports-project-awarded-government-grant-funding-as-part-of-future-flight-challenge/)

Socio-economic benefits

This news came within hours of the publication of a socio-economic study commissioned by UK Research and Innovation to look at the potential costs and benefits of new aviation technologies in the UK. The study is linked here (https://www.pwc.co.uk/intelligent-digital/drones/future-flight-socio-economic-study-summary.pdf).

The study looked at varying use cases for drones:

  1. Inspection of the Beauly-Denny powerline by Remote Drone
  2. Cargo delivery between Inverness and Kirkwall
  3. Last mile delivery of prescribed medicine
  4. Air Taxi between York and Preston
  5. Air Taxi between two villages 25km apart
  6. Air Taxi within a city over 10km

Over the first four use cases, the study showed a potential cost saving of between 20% and 48%, as compared with the existing methods of inspection / delivery / travel.

Whilst the other two use cases did not provide a cost saving, there were time savings and a potential win for the green agenda (given drones are powered by electricity).

To my mind, the study was conservative in its estimate of the cost savings that could be achieved. With economies of scale and as the technology develops further, increased cost savings could be realised.

Vertiports stateside

On Wednesday, the aviation start-up, Lilium, announced its plans to build ten vertiports (drone landing pads) in the U.S.A. The aim is to connect communities in Florida with vertiports being placed in all of the major cities. The CEO at Lilium believes that the majority of Florida's 20 million residents will live within 30 minutes of a vertiport and will therefore benefit from high-speed connections to their destinations. (https://www.futurecar.com/4384/German-Aviation-Startup-Lilium-Announces-Plans-to-Build-10-U-S--Vertiports-for-its--4-Passenger-eVTOL-Aircraft)

UK air hubs

Finally, we have heard that Coventry is to be the location of the UK's first air hub for flying taxis and autonomous delivery drones. This has the backing of both the UK Government and Coventry City Council. The latter are hoping that this will reduce congestion and CO2 emissions in the city. Urban Air Port, who will be building the infrastructure, are hoping the air hub will be operational by November this year. (https://sifted.eu/articles/uk-flying-taxi-hub-coventry/)  

Opportunity

Drone technology, for the use cases outlined, is ready. The Future Flight Challenge study has shown the business case for the technology. We now need to develop and scale the necessary infrastructure. Lilium, Skyports and Urban Air Port are a few of the organisations leading the way.

Drones have the potential to revolutionise the built environment. There are many opportunities for landowners to engage with the organisations developing and operating drone technology and the associated infrastructure. These opportunities could prove lucrative for landowners. Watch this space for further ideas as to how landowners can commoditise these opportunities.