BT and GSMA reckon UK drone industry is lagging

Drone flying near commercial airplane

A report from BT and GSMA argues new regulations are needed to help the UK drone industry keep pace with the rest of the world.

BT commissioned the report which was carried out by GSMA Intelligence, and it’s primary purpose is to lay out recommendations ‘which could help guarantee the UK is a leader in the drone economy if acted on within the next year.’

It contains a ‘drone readiness index’, which ranks countries according to how well their drone ecosystems are coming along, and claims Japan, Switzerland, France, Germany and Italy are all doing better than the UK due to ‘established regulatory systems and infrastructure.’ Blighty is apparently in the middle of this ranking, with Switzerland at the top and the US the bottom.

This is all framing for the report’s four key recommendations to the UK government, the UK aviation regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), and other relevant agencies, which it says can improve the UK’s future drone prospects.

First, it claims policies around Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) drones are confusing to firms looking to develop them, and the implementation guidelines need to be simplified and modernised. Secondly, something has to be done about investment in the sector, or more specifically the CAA ‘must formulate workable regulations that promote investment in a timely manner’

Thirdly it recommends The flagship Future Flight Challenge or something like it should be extended, in order that firms have a say in regulatory development. Finally, it wants all this done in a year, claiming ‘the UK has a window that is as narrow as 12 months to set the regulations and guidance that will help the sector thrive.’

“Across the globe, the drone industry is being rapidly unlocked. Tapping into this can transform the world of business, the delivery of public services, and the prospects for the UK economy,” said Dave Pankhurst, Director of Drones, Etc. at BT Group.  “At Etc., we have reached some significant landmarks already, but with these new recommendations, we hope to rally the support of the government and industry regulators for the UK drone industry to reach its full potential.”

Tim Hatt, Head of Consulting, GSMA Intelligence added: “There is no question drones will be a key part of successful digital economies. The technology side of development is happening at pace across the board. The issue now is having regulatory systems that enable commercial expansion at scale. The challenge for the UK is that, despite huge progress in drone development, regulation has not kept pace and the country therefore scores only 62 out of 100 on overall market readiness, placing it behind European peers and others such as Japan.

“This need not be the case. Beyond the hive of activity happening in the drone sector, UK mobile network infrastructure and service development are advancing; 4G and 5G mobile coverage now reach 99% and 63% of the population respectively. Taking action on these recommendations would go a long way to helping the government’s ambitions to make the UK a technological leader in the 5G era, providing a boost to GDP, jobs and international competitiveness”.

The report cites the often trotted out claim that drones could somehow contribute £45 billion to the UK economy by 2030, which feels like a bit of a punt for something that barely exists yet but who knows. What they tend to envisage is drones buzzing around performing tasks for utilities, public services, manufacturing, last-mile logistics and distribution, conservation and land/forestry management, among other things.

Whether this grand vision of a drone industry generating riches and productivity coming to pass hinges on niche regulation could presumably be argued with by those in the know, however recommendations along the lines of making sure such experts are involved certainly makes sense, since it’s such a cutting edge and not widely understood area.

It does comes off as a bit alarmist to put a deadline on this vision of the future like it’s a time bomb, but a perhaps you need a tactic to get attention when it comes to nitty gritty regulation about which few will be aware of.


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