The future of flight? The civil use of drones

Drones have captured the public imagination, featuring as last Christmas’ most popular present.

Commercial businesses too are taking advantage of both large and small drones, developing new technology:

  • Facebook has flown a solar powered pilotless plane over the UK in an attempt to make the internet more accessible.
  • Amazon have set up a drone R&D lab in Cambridge to develop its Amazon Prime Air service which aims to use small drones to deliver packages.

The public sector is also looking to harness drone technology with Merseyside, Staffordshire, Essex, Wiltshire and West Midlands police forces having purchased models. Drones could also replace police helicopters to respond quickly and efficiently in emergency situations.

The civil use of drones and drone technology presents a significant opportunity for market growth. However, it is vital that a clear regulatory environment is developed for drones of all shapes and sizes – balancing cost effectiveness with safety requirements in order to help rather than hinder, industrial innovation.

For UK and Europe to become global leaders of industry, regulations and guidelines need to be addressed at an international, as well as local, level. This will ensure that UK industry operates on a level playing field and will also allow the flight of larger drones across international borders. Developing the right regulations will ensure universal safety standards and give manufacturers the certainty they need to make long-term investment decisions.

As many as 150,000 jobs in Europe could be created in the drone market by 2050 and so it is encouraging that, in a response to a House of Lords committee report the government recognised the importance drones could have to the aerospace sector.

By government and industry working together, a clear, effective and wider regulatory framework can be established. This will ensure that the UK not only has the  opportunity to become international market leaders, but will also help bring bringing significant investment and jobs to UK industry.