How much is the drone biz worth to the UK? How's £42bn by 2030 sound? – PWC

Come back, Gartner, your mystic mages are all forgiven


Accounting house PwC has stuck its fingers in the air and declared that drones will create more than 600,000 jobs in the United Kingdom. They've also said it will add more value to the UK than the entire Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish manufacturing sectors combined.

A 28-page PwC report titled "Drones – taking the UK's economy to new heights" reckoned that unmanned aerial systems would generate 628,000 jobs and pile an extra £42bn onto the UK's gross domestic product (GDP) by the year 2030.

For comparison, the entire British telecoms industry generated a total of £30.2bn in 2015, according to a Parliamentary briefing paper (PDF), while the £42bn figure would be nearly equalled by the output of the entire manufacturing sectors of Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and southwest England – a total of £40.7bn, as taken from figures compiled by the Engineering Employers' Federation (EEF).

Industrial sectors that stand to benefit from adopting drone technology include oil and gas, agriculture, transport, construction, telecoms and "financial, insurance, professional and administrative services". In addition, the public sector will apparently be flying an oddly specific 27,521 drones by 2030.

The PwC paper's authors reckoned that a total of 76,000 drones would be operating in British skies in just over a decade, though it appears that this prediction includes everything from toy-sized craft right up to full-sized autonomous aeroplanes.

"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," said Elaine Whyte, director at PwC's Intelligent Digital.

The Register understands that the Drone Bill will be published "later" this year, and we are awaiting a response from the Department of Transport to find out whether this will be before or after the summer holidays.

PwC's methodology was summarised by the report's authors as follows: "We input our multi-factor productivity figures into our Computable General Equilibrium model, to work out the aggregate effects of drones uptake on UK GDP up to 2030, and the total number of jobs impacted by drones as a result," while they warned that their headline £42bn GDP boost figure "should be interpreted as the potential 'size of the economic prize' associated with drones, as opposed to direct estimates of future economic growth."

These highly optimistic predictions do not fit with murmurings El Reg has heard from the PfCO-licensed drone operator community, some of whom are throwing in the towel over concerns that the nascent industry is suffering from too many suppliers, not enough customers and lax enforcement of the rules against unlicensed operators.

"I have friends who have invested far more than me in their UAV operations, and I feel sorry for them – I encouraged them to do it and now I feel very guilty as we all acted in good faith only to find ourselves swamped by licensed competition, and doubly so by illegal operators [thanks to] no enforcement of the law," licensed drone operator Nik Fox told The Register earlier this year. ®

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