The drones are coming (?)

06 Nov 19

Beyond the increasingly common request to consider how new buildings can accommodate future drone infrastructure, it will be important to seek to harness the potential which drones offer urban environments – reducing air pollution and providing flexible transport routes for medical supplies and emergency service provision – whilst balancing issues relating to safety, security, residential amenity and other potential impacts.

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Across the world, drone technology is rapidly advancing, from the recently unveiled world’s first passenger Vertiport in Singapore, to cargo drones delivering medical supplies in China, Switzerland and Africa, and the operational testing of delivering 6kg payloads in urban areas in Finland.

Even here in London, the Metropolitan Police Service are using drones to support a range of operational activities; contractors are using drones to inspect tunnels for Crossrail and the London Fire Brigade are frequently using them when responding to incidents, as well as the more common use in film, TV and for surveying.

Partly in response to these advances, a £300 million investment package was announced this summer by the Government for investments in greener travel technologies which included supporting the UK in becoming the international lead in designing and developing drone technology. The Mayor of London has also recently consulted on the wider use of drones in urban environments.

Legislation is starting to catch up, with the preparation of guidance for EU Member States on the certification of vertiports in Europe, emerging from a collaboration between the European Aviation Safety Agency and Skyports. Quite essential when some are predicting the first commercial urban drone passenger services beginning in 2023.

So, what does this mean for the urban environment?

Beyond the increasingly common request to consider how new buildings can accommodate future drone infrastructure, it will be important to seek to harness the potential which drones offer urban environments – reducing air pollution and providing flexible transport routes for medical supplies and emergency service provision – whilst balancing issues relating to safety, security, residential amenity and other potential impacts.

We therefore watch with interest the developments in drone technology and infrastructure provision in various parts of the world and how this research can shape the future of UK planning policies which will need to guide the assessment of this emerging form of development. It is likely that national policy makers and Local Planning Authorities will need to respond quickly to develop planning policies in order to harness the opportunities and appropriately regulate the matters posed by this evolving technology.

Gill Eaton Associate,Planning