Drones to add £21 billion to UK public sector and financial services

29 May 2018 Consultancy.uk 3 min. read

New research by PwC suggests that the ‘drone economy’ could add £42 billion to UK GDP by 2030. The firm’s drone report outlines the huge potential productivity and cost savings that a fleet of some 76,000 drones in British skies could bring to the public and private sectors.

Drones – unmanned aerial vehicles operated by a user on the ground – exist in a legal grey area. Used by the British military overseas and for security purposes at home, more rudimentary drones can also be bought online and used by hobbyists – a growing cause of concern for privacy advocates.

Autonomous drones are presently illegal and strict air traffic control regulation demands that all drones be flown within their operators’ line of sight. A licencing system for commercial use is still evolving and the first Amazon Prime Air drone deliveries slated to debut in 2019 when legislation relaxes to encourage innovation.

By 2030 the skies above Britain will be a very different place. Big Four professional services firm PwC estimates that, rather than today’s chaotic swarm of private toys, there will be a highly coordinated hive of more than 76,000 sophisticated drones performing all manner of tasks. The accounting and consulting firm’s UK drones report confidently predicts that Britain’s new drone economy will employ more than half a million people and be worth tens of billions to GDP.

More than a third of the future drone fleet will be used by public sector agencies. Defence, health, and education are cited as those with the most to gain. The primary generation of jobs and wealth will come from private sector harnessing the new technology. All in all, drones are projected to add £42 billion to UK GDP within 12 years – a 2% increase. An estimated £16 billion will come from net cost savings and some 628,000 people are expected to be involved in designing, building, operating and regulating drones.

How much economic value can drones deliver by 2030?

The GDP benefits are expected to be most profound in the struggling retail and wholesale trade sector. The researchers project a 2.5% increase in productivity, equating to almost £8 billion. In terms of straight forward savings on costs, the Telecommunications, Media, and Technology (TMT) sector will gain the most, with almost £5 billion saved by leveraging drone technology.

The public sector will generate the most economic value from drones, at around £11.4 billion. They will prove indispensable for expensive tasks like fixing power lines and electricity grids and coordinating emergency transport. In the financial and professional services sector, drones have a projected economic impact of £10.4 billion, compared to £8.6 billion in construction & manufacturing. 

"Drones could spark significant improvements in the UK economy,” said Jonathan Gillham, economics director at PwC. “The rise in GDP and job creation from drones uptake are expected to be substantial, but productivity is likely to see the greatest gains. By automating routine tasks, improving effectiveness, safety and reducing costs, drones will free up people to focus on higher-value work."

"Drones have the potential to offer a powerful new perspective for businesses across a variety of industries, delivering both productivity benefits and increased value from the data they collect,” added Elaine Whyte, UK drones leader at PwC. “The UK has the opportunity to be at the leading edge of exploiting this emerging technology, and now is the time for investments to to kickstart our drone industry.

“There is a need for current UK drone regulation to advance to see the estimations in our report become a reality, but it's positive to see the Government already taking proactive steps to address this with the draft Drones Bill.”

While the government gets its Drones Bill in order, PwC is marching on with its own specialist drone division. Clients are keen to leverage drones for their data-gathering capacity and recognise that, as a disruptive technology, it is never too soon to develop drone expertise. Globally, the drone industry has been projected by Marsh to be worth more than $100 billion by 2030.