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Taking Off: Commercial Drone Use in the Transportation, Logistics, Warehousing and Maritime Industries

December 13, 2019

Our series on drones, known formally as “unmanned aircraft systems” or “UAS,” addresses the growing use of drones in numerous industries across the United States. Many sectors in the United States have embraced drones due to their ability to significantly reduce costs, execute a variety of tasks traditionally performed by human labor, access places that humans and larger aircraft are incapable of reaching and provide enhanced reliability and accuracy of data.

Furthermore, commercial drone use in the U.S. is expected to become more prevalent as federal government decision-makers and industry stakeholders work together to encourage drone use in commercial operations and to foster the integration of drones into the nation’s airspace.

Here’s the fourth installment of our series, which focuses on the rapidly increasing integration of drones into the transportation, logistics, warehousing and maritime industries.

Transportation, Logistics and Warehousing

Given the significant cost and time savings drone use generates, it is not surprising that the drone logistics and transportation market is estimated to be 11.20 billion US dollars in 2022 and is projected to reach 29.06 billion US dollars by 2027, at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 21.01% from 2022 to 2027. In fact, the drone logistics and transportation market is anticipated to grow at the highest CAGR during the forecast period in the North America region.

Drones can be used by transportation and logistics companies for several purposes. One area that is expected to see a significant increase in drone use is drone deliveries. For example:

  • Recently, UPS obtained approval from the FAA to operate a nationwide fleet of drones, which will permit the company to perform drone deliveries on hospital campuses and bring it one step closer to providing consumers with drone deliveries. 
  • Amazon’s drone delivery service, Amazon Prime Air, edges closer to achieving its goal of providing delivery to consumers within thirty minutes of ordering.
  • Wing, the drone delivery company owned by Google’s parent company, Alphabet, announced in September that it would be participating in a government-sponsored pilot program whereby Wing, FedEx Express, Walgreens, and a local retailer would partner to make drone delivery of medical goods available to residents in Virginia.

To understand the implications and benefits of enabling safe drone deliveries, one need look no further than the successful drone delivery of a kidney to a transplant recipient this past April. The delivery, achieved through a partnership between AiRXOS, a part of GE Aviation, and the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore, demonstrates that drone deliveries have the potential not just to be more convenient—they may also save lives.

Aside from drone deliveries, indoor drones are being used by companies increasingly to monitor and track inventory, and heavy-duty drones can be used to transport packages between warehouses, thus allowing companies to meet local or regional demand without needing to rely on trucking. For example, Ware is a company that has developed a program that automates the inventory process through the use of drones. Additionally, drones could potentially streamline the claims and returns process by retrieving and returning products from a customer to the seller.

Finally, vital organs, medical goods, and consumer orders are not the only things that will increasingly be transported by drones in the future.

Maritime

Various participants in the maritime industry have begun using drones, including bathymetric surveyors, coast guard, container ports, cruise lines, shipyards, and shore-to-ship package couriers. In the maritime sector, drones can be utilized:

  • For security and surveillance purposes
  • To deliver spare parts, documentation, and medical equipment to ships
  • For search and rescue missions
  • For ship and cargo inspections

Regarding inspections, drones can be used to inspect flare stacks, tops of cranes, and confined spaces, as well as survey damage after incidents. In particular, drones allow end users to inspect remotely hull exterior or interior of tanks and other areas that are difficult for surveyors to reach. Finally, drones can be used to monitor ships’ emissions as they enter port. All of these tasks can be performed by drones at a fraction of the time and cost of traditional means.

While commercial drone operation in the United States continues to advance, obstacles remain that prohibit the commercial drone industry from reaching its full potential.

For example, public perception of drones, especially in areas of the country where commercial drone use has not gained sufficient exposure, needs to be modified so that the public will understand the numerous benefits drones can provide to various industries rather than viewing drones as voyeuristic devices that promote trespassing and invasions of privacy.

In addition, state and local government decision-makers across the country will need to work with federal government leaders and industry stakeholders to facilitate commercial drone operations and remove barriers that threaten to curtail the progression of the industry.

We will continue to share the latest developments and provide insights as we proceed to monitor the growing commercial drone industry.

Stay tuned for each installment of our special industry-by-industry forecast for drone usage in 2020 and beyond.