Gary Cutts 10 November 2021

The sky's the limit: Unlocking regional growth with drones

The skys the limit: Unlocking regional growth with drones image

Tackling transport congestion is an ongoing challenge for the UK’s local authorities. The population continues to grow, putting increased pressure on councils to manage overcrowding and excess traffic.

If nothing changes, the Local Government Association estimates that, by 2030, congestion will cost the UK economy a staggering £397bn, while delays on the road will equate to almost five days wasted per person every year.

It's not just productivity and the economy that are at risk from congestion, it's the environment too. In October of this year, the UK government formally announced its Net Zero Strategy, with ambitious plans to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. The strategy is a tall order for local councils and their citizens. As the London Cycling Campaign noted, to meet these climate change targets in London alone, people would need to reduce their car mileage by 60% by 2035.

For many years, we’ve known that major systemic changes are required to tackle climate change, and it’s clear that the government needs to revolutionise its approach to urban mobility at both a regional and national level.

To make this kind of change happen, we need to be ambitious. We need to look to the skies. That’s why at the Future Flight Challenge, we’re working with UK councils to explore the opportunity for drones and advanced air mobility (AAM) to deliver low emission, and more efficient alternatives.

Reimagining the future of transport

Right now, the aviation industry is at a pivotal moment. Advancements in engineering and technology have combined to create a third aviation revolution: green, electric, airborne and unmanned vehicles that can relieve congestion and resolve environmental challenges.

Once only bound to sci-fi novels, drones and advanced air mobility vehicles are fast becoming a reality. By 2025, the European Union believes that these vehicles will be widely implemented across Europe. Right now, local councils have a unique opportunity to become leaders in building the mobility infrastructure of the future.

Delivery drones are already here

The benefits are manyfold. For one, there are the economic advantages: research by PwC shows that switching to drones for deliveries could be up to 48% cheaper when compared to current methods. The same report also predicts that drone services could result in a net saving of £13bn to the UK economy by 2030.

Not only are drones less expensive, but they're also faster and can facilitate emergency service operations. Indeed, Britain's Civil Aviation Authority and the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency are already collaborating to introduce drone deliveries for transplant organs and vital medicines. If your local authority encouraged drone deliveries, it could ease road congestion.

Air taxis are nearly here

As well as using drones and AAMs for consumer deliveries, these vehicles can also connect under-served communities with critical supplies – a major aspect of the government's Levelling Up agenda. By reimagining local infrastructure, councils can improve access to services and boost opportunities across the UK. For example, AAM vehicles can facilitate faster, greener, lower-cost, inter-town transit options.

Yes – air taxis are closer than you think. Local authorities in the US are already making plans, while the UK is looking to build air hubs for very-short-haul passenger AAM flights. This, in turn, could boost the economy by making it easier for businesses to operate and reducing commuting times. It can even improve citizens' job opportunities, by connecting employees to jobs further afield.

The time to act is now

For local councils who want to build a greener, more sustainable future, the time to act is now. Start-ups, traditional aviation players, technology giants, and regulatory bodies have invested in and tested AAM vehicles and drones. To move these innovations out of the pilot stage, they require the participation of local councils and government bodies.

The UK government is already making moves to encourage adoption. The Future Flight Challenge is a three-phase £300m programme that will assure the UK’s position in the third aviation revolution by fostering the development of greener ways to fly, including all-electric aircraft and deliveries by drone.

For example, the Future Flight Challenge has already invested £33m in Dock-to-Dock, a project from UWE Bristol and Cardiff University exploring the delivery of goods between coastal cities using zero-emission hydrogen fuel technology.

We can transform the delivery of local government services, but it needs a supporting framework to make that possible. Work with us to develop this infrastructure and create the future of aviation in your local area.

Gary Cutts, Challenge Director, Future Flight Challenge, UK Research and Innovation

Creating net-zero public engagement image

Creating net-zero public engagement

Local Climate Engagement is a project to support local authorities or partnerships to plan, commission and deliver high quality public engagement in how best to reduce carbon emissions. Sarah Allan explains.
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