Will drone deliveries help reduce traffic in the UK?

26th Mar 2024

As Amazon announce they will commence drone delivery in the UK by the end of 2024, we explore whether such adoption can ease congestion in our cities.

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There is no doubting the willingness from all areas to equip the UK with a network of drones that could tackle traffic congestion and also provide a more efficient way of delivering of vital equipment such as medical supplies; go back seven years and there were newspaper stories talking about government initiatives that would do just that.


In the case of Amazon, it’s been 10 years since boss Jeff Bezos first proposed deliveries by air. Obviously, the home delivery market - and therefore associated transport that enables it - is a much bigger issue today than it was in 2014. More recently, Bezos last year announced that Amazon drone deliveries will be up and running by the end of 2024.


Meanwhile, a report from the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) in February announced, once again, that ‘Drones could be used for critical medical deliveries’, without specifying a timescale.


The holdup is understandable: aviation activities prohibit the use of drones for safety reasons. But proposed measures could see drones fly at lower heights and close to buildings, where there would be no risk of impact with aircraft.


“Our proposals are a positive step towards unlocking the next stage for drone flying in the UK,” said Kevin Woolsey, the head of remotely piloted aircraft systems at the CAA. “Allowing drones to fly beyond the sight of the remote pilot, without placing restrictions on other aircraft in the area, will be a major achievement for UK drone operations.


“Safety comes first in everything we do and so we have identified sensible mitigations on where drones can fly using this proposed concept to make sure we maintain levels of safety.”


Regardless of the CAA’s position, work is continuing in relation to more effective use of drones as transport. In 2023, Transport for West Midlands (TfWM) announced it had established a drone team who would support regional transport managers who were facing calls to cut congestion.


The idea was for the drones to fly over congested areas and accident spots, providing footage to help diversions to be established. TfWM said that the drones had proved instrumental in managing and minimising congestion at junctions.


Elsewhere in the UK, trials have been conducted by various organisations to test the delivery-drone concept, one of which is Skyway, a drone superhighway covering a 164-mile stretch of England.


Altitude Angel is one of the companies involved - its ARROW ground-based detect and avoid technology being at the heart of the Skyway strategy. In total, 30 towers will be placed in a corridor between Reading and Coventry. 


While Altitude Angel is yet to receive any go ahead for the Skyway project from the CAA, Steven Farmer, the company’s Head of Corporate Communications remains confident. “We started working on Skyway in June 2022 and it’s a two-year project, so we are positive that we will receive certification and approval for the technology by June 2024.” 


Initially the goods transported will be low-volume, high-value items, but there are big plans to scale up if the initial phase has proved successful.


If that point is reached, more towers are to be set up - for example between Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight - and the true potential of this technology to reduce traffic will be clearer.


Main image: Drone delivery in Malaga, Spain; credit: Shutterstock

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