US regulations will hold back cargo delivery by drone, says Frost & Sullivan

AERIAL drone growth from 2019 to 2023 will increase to 2

05 May 2020 - 19:00

AERIAL drone growth from 2019 to 2023 will increase to 2.44 million, but only about 100,000 will be used for cargo delivery, according to a research report from Texas-based investment strategies firm Frost & Sullivan.

Drone applications have rapidly proliferated across industries, but their use for package deliveries is expected to remain largely grounded by regulatory and infrastructural hurdles during the next few years, reports American Shipper.

In December, the US Federal Aviation Administration (F) proposed a so-called 'license plate' rule for drones which could allow for their operation beyond visual contact of the operator, but the rule is fraught with privacy and operator liability concerns and will likely take years for the agency to finalise.

The company forecasts that the number of deployed drones will increase from 2.44 million in 2019 to 2.91 million in 2023.

Most drones will operate in the 'dull, dangerous, dirty and difficult' jobs category, said Frost & Sullivan vice president Michael Blades.

These types of jobs may include, for example, inspecting unsafe buildings and the inside of oil tanker hulls. Drones have proved themselves safe and effective in myriad applications, such as building, power line and wind turbine inspections; mapping and navigation; and crop spraying.

Since first began developing drones in 2013 for consumer deliveries, a multitude of companies, including UPS and FedEx, have stepped forward with their own plans for the technology.

But F regulations for drone flight ceilings, times of operation, and visual contact by operators during flight continue to hold back the technology's commercial cargo potential, said Mr Blades.

One of the most successful services for delivering cargo by drone was launched in 2014 by San Francisco-based Zipline. The company's small, fixed-wing drones deliver shipments of medical supplies using parachute drops to remote locations in Africa.

According to Zipline's website, the company operates strategically located distribution centres across Africa from which its drones take off and return. Zipline said its drones can make hundreds of deliveries a day from these sites to any point within an 8,750-square-mile radius.

United Parcel Service (UPS) has expanded its investments in drone technology in recent years. In March 2019, the company's UPS Flight Forward unit began using M2 drones, developed in partnership with Matternet, to deliver pharmaceutical parcels across the WakeMed medical campus in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Earlier this year, UPS entered a partnership with Wingcopter of Germany to develop heftier, longer-range drones for shipment deliveries.

Other manufacturers, such as DJI, Flirtey and Elroy Air, have successfully developed package-transporting drones in recent years.

Mr Blades said unless the F grants a waiver, the requirement for visual contact with the drone by the operator will continue to limit the technology's growth prospects for commercial cargo delivery in the US.

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