UK drone regulation 'holding back supply chain savings'

19 January 2023

The UK government has been accused of limiting innovation and stifling the use of drones in supply chains, resulting in billions of pounds of missed cost savings. 

report by the Drone Delivery Group (DDG), a trade body, said the use of drones could save businesses £22bn by 2030 but the government’s approach to regulation was “orthodox” and “risk averse”, hampering their adoption.

Robert Garbet, chairman of the senior advisory board of the DDG, told Supply Management the current regulatory landscape made commercial drone use “all but impossible” because flights needed to be granted permission by the Civil Aviation Authority. 

“[Updating regulations] will help regulators do a better job of keeping up with the fast pace of technological change; ensuring the prioritisation of safety whilst avoiding needlessly holding back the introduction of new services to industry and supply chain networks that could save businesses £22bn by 2030 and add £45bn to the UK’s economic output,” he said. 

The report said the UK risked falling behind countries such as India, which recently announced plans to become a “Global Drone Hub” by 2030.  

Last year Boots announced a trial with drone startup Apian to fly medicines to the Isle of Wight, while Project Skyway, linking towns across England, was announced.

The report warned commercialising such projects “will be impossible” without updating regulation to allow for greater use of unmanned flights.

“At a time when the UK government is seeking cost and efficiency savings, this offers an effective solution that could greatly assist in the development of coherent, synchronised standards and regulations, while significantly reducing the workload associated with the development of guidance and detailed regulations,” it said.

A report by the PWC last year, cited by the DDG, said drones could deliver cost savings of £4.6bn across the public, defence, health and education sector; £4.4bn to the agriculture, mining, water, gas and electricity sectors; £4.2bn of savings to the transport and logistics sector; and £3.7bn to the wholesale, retail trade, accommodation and food sector.

It said: “Firms should become more profitable as a result of drones being in their supply chain, [as] drone-enabled solutions are cheaper than the alternative.

“Our analysis of the impact of drones on jobs strongly suggests that drone adoption will enhance workforce productivity and most likely create new roles associated with drone operation.”

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