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UK’s Drone Industry Growth: Regulatory Change Key to Unlocking Potential

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A recent report commissioned by BT and carried out by GSMA Intelligence stresses the need for new regulations to help the UK drone industry catch up with leading countries. The study contains a ‘drone readiness index,’ which places the UK behind countries like Japan, Switzerland, France, Germany, and Italy due to better-established regulatory systems and infrastructure.

The report provides four key recommendations for the UK government, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), and other agencies to improve the UK’s drone prospects. First, it highlights the need to simplify and modernize policies around Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) drones, as they are currently confusing for the developing companies. Second, it suggests that the CAA should create regulations that promote timely investment in the sector. Third, it proposes extending the flagship Future Flight Challenge or a similar program, allowing firms to contribute to regulatory development. Lastly, the report urges these changes to occur within the next 12 months to help the sector thrive.

Dave Pankhurst, Director of Drones, Etc. at BT Group, said, “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.” While the UK has made progress in drone development, regulatory obstacles may prevent the sector from reaching its full potential.

Tim Hatt, Head of Consulting at GSMA Intelligence, noted that drones would form an integral part of successful digital economies. However, the UK currently scores only 62 out of 100 on overall market readiness due to lagging regulation. Action on these recommendations would support the government’s ambitions to make the UK a technological leader in the 5G era and enhance GDP, jobs, and international competitiveness.

The report claims that drones could contribute £45 billion to the UK economy by 2030, which may seem speculative given the fledgling state of the industry. Such projections envision drones carrying out tasks for utilities, public services, manufacturing, last-mile logistics, and conservation, among other sectors. While these recommendations may not be the sole determining factor in realizing this vision, involving experts in the field does seem reasonable as the technology is cutting-edge and not widely understood. The urgency prescribed by this report may be a tactic to draw attention to this regulatory proposal, as few are aware of the complexities surrounding drone regulation.

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