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The impact of drones on the UK economy

Skies without limits

A look at how drones will impact the UK’s economy, jobs, productivity and quality of life

The growing use of drones in UK airspace is a source of both huge excitement and apprehension. Most of the excitement is among businesses in a wide range of sectors, who anticipate – and in many cases are already realising – major benefits from drones. The apprehension tends to be among members of the public, who are concerned about their implications for personal privacy and safety. So, what are the real opportunities and drawbacks? Drawing on a detailed analysis of the economic impacts of drones, we examine the commercial potential and wider significance of drones for the UK.

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Drones –  “unmanned aerial vehicles” (UAVs) – are becoming an increasingly familiar aspect of life and work in the UK today, playing a growing role in areas ranging from emergency services to construction to assessing claims. But these uses are just the start.

During a time when organisations are under pressure to be more efficient, innovative and ambitious in how they deliver services, drones offer a unique lens on the world below. Gathering data quickly and accurately from hard to reach places, they can create a ‘golden record’ in real time. This can make a crucial difference in managing costs, controlling risks, increasing safety and influencing outcomes.

A concept poised for take-off

GDP uplifts across industries

The level of cost savings will vary between industries, with the UK’s technology, media and telecoms (TMT) sector reaping the biggest cost reductions, at some £4.8bn by 2030. Other sectors including financial services, transport and logistics, and government services have great potential to see major savings.

These savings will in turn help the UK economy address one of its major long-term challenges: productivity. Cost reductions from drone usage will feed into an increase of 3.2% in “multi-factor” productivity across the UK economy, and contribute to large GDP uplifts in many industries: £8.6bn in construction and manufacturing; £7.7bn in wholesale, retail trade and food services; and £11.4bn in the public sector (including defence, health & education).

The impact on jobs will be substantial. The combination of drones and automation may initially lead to some posts becoming redundant, but over time the gains in cost savings, productivity and consumer demand generated by drones will create new jobs and have a transformational impact on how we work and live.

Taken together, these positive impacts will result in explosive growth in the number of drones in UK airspace. Of the 76,000 drones that we project will be flying across UK skies by 2030, over a third (36%) will used by the public sector, including for defence, health and education, contributing to a safer UK.

Navigating the airspace ahead

The overall impact of drones on our economy and society may well end up being broader and deeper than the economic figures suggest. There can be positive impacts of using technologies, helping both people and the planet. In PwC’s Innovation for the Earth work we explore how many of the emerging Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies, including autonomous vehicles and drones, can accelerate innovative solutions to help address some of the world’s most pressing environmental challenges.

There are challenges that still need to be overcome if we are to unlock the real potential of drones in the UK. As they become commonplace, businesses and public services will need to use drones responsibly and ethically to allay public concerns over privacy and their misuse. Embracing Technology for good can contribute importantly to the UK’s sustainable development over coming years and decades.

Organisations monitoring and harnessing these advances in drone technology are a great example of applying 'Intelligent Digital'. This is the important balance of business understanding with technology innovation and human insight. Drone technology can become a core component of an organisation’s Intelligent Digital strategy. 

A further factor is regulation. Drones differ from other emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) in that the government is responsible for the safety of its airspace, so all uses of drones will need to comply with regulation as it evolves.

Some questions to help map out the way forward

Whatever their size or industry sector, the market leaders of tomorrow are likely to be exploring the possibilities and setting their strategies for drones today. We believe there are four questions any business should address now, if it wants to make the most of the drone opportunity:

  • How vulnerable is your business model to drone-driven disruption – and how soon will that disruption arrive?
  • What game-changing openings are there within your market, and how can you take advantage of them?
  • Do you have the talent, data and technology you’ll need to do this?
  • How can you build transparency and trust into your drone platforms and applications?

Get the answers to these questions right, and you’ll be well-placed to emerge as a winner from the forthcoming drone revolution – a seismic shift that will bring major implications for the UK’s citizens, industries, economy and employment. Now is the time to explore and embrace the potential of drones, and lay the foundations for success in the drone-enabled world of 2030.

Skies without limits
A look at how drones will impact the UK’s economy, jobs, productivity and quality of life
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“I envisage that the advantages of drone technology will be well established within the decade - not only for business purposes, but also for helping to protect our society. In order to realise the potential from drones the immediate focus must be on developing society’s confidence in the technology to help drive acceptance and increase adoption. While drones are often viewed as more of a toy currently, by combining this emerging technology with the right business understanding and human insight there is a huge opportunity to help solve some of business and society’s most important problems.”

Elaine Whyte UK Drones leader

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Contact us

Euan Cameron

Euan Cameron

UK Artificial Intelligence and Drones Leader, PwC United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)7802 438423

Joanne Murray

Joanne Murray

UK Drones Assurance lead, PwC United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)7525 281052

Ben Evans

Ben Evans

UK Drones, PwC United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)7742 457634

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