Yet are the drone producers’ and operators’ predictions of a shining future of vertical air mobility services, realistic? Doubts are warranted, at least concerning cargo drones, as illustrated by rather sobering studies recently presented by Porsche Consulting GmbH. According to the analysts, there is still a long way to go until cargo drones become an indispensable part of the supply chain.
Porsche Consulting estimates that the volume of the global drone market will amount to roughly US$74 billion by 2035. However, of this total sum, only $4bn are attributed to cargo drones.
Growth will vary depending on region. For instance, APAC is expected to capture roughly 45% of the global drone market by 2035, translating into US$9.5 billion, followed by the Americas (30% at $9.5 billion), while Europe and the rest of the world will garner the remaining 25%, or $5.3 billion.
According to Gregor Grandl, Senior Partner Porsche Consulting, the drone industry is now primarily concerned with collecting venture capital to secure funding for its different projects. Volocopter CEO, Florian Reuter, delivered a similar comment at a recent mobility trade show held in Hamburg, Germany (https://www.cargoforwarder.eu/2021/10/17/volodrone-launches-first-public-test-flight/).
So far, there seems to be plenty of money flowing right into the coffers of the drone producers. The industry awakens fantasies, with some protagonists already talking about a new gold rush. And the first visible successes are already there, as recent company announcements prove. For instance, Germany-headquartered Wingcopter inked a deal with UPS to establish a drone network in parts of the USA. California-based manufacturer, Matternet is working on setting up intra-city drone services in Berlin and Abu Dhabi, to fly blood samples or urgently needed medicines to laboratories, hospitals, or clinics. Zipline, a specialist in instant logistics, has just completed the first long-range drone delivery of C-19 vaccines requiring ultra-cold-temps in Ghana. And DBSchenker is collaborating with manufacturer Volodrone, to launch a large, electrically powered, unmanned aerial vehicle that can carry up to 200 kilograms over a distance of 40 km. Not to forget CEO Steven Rangelov of Dronamics and his unmanned cargo drone, Black Swan, that is capable of flying 350 kg at a distance of 2,500 km nonstop; parameters that have attracted the attention of integrator DHL.
Impressive and sobering figures balance each other out
Last year, there were around 7,000 cargo drones in operation worldwide. Their number will rise to 25,000 by 2025, thanks, in part, to continued investment. By 2035, the Porsche analysts expect 125,000 cargo drones in service, ranging from small to large.
Impressive figures at first glance. But when it comes to practical use, only 10% of the global courier, express, parcel (CEP) market is relevant for drone delivery, say the Porsche analysts. While the global market for CEP is worth US$145 billion, time-critical shipments requiring instant, same-day, and highly reliable delivery, only comprise one-fifth.
Cargo drones are only advantageous when time is a key driver or remote locations need to be reached that are difficult to access by road, rail, or water. So far, existing drone models are still quite limited in terms of the weight they can carry and their operational range. However, this may improve as new technics emerge, enhancing the performance of the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV).
Express shipments are key driver of drone operations
According to the Porsche study, most of the revenue generated by freight drones in 2035, will come from last-mile express delivery and accounting for 30%, matching drone deployments to extend an established delivery network (30%). UAVs supporting fertilization and cultivation in agriculture will capture around 15%, followed by electrically driven vertical take-off and landing devices (eVTOL) utilized for emergency transports such as blood samples, medication, or donor organs, representing 10%. Finally, drones performing surveillance and safety missions will account for the remaining 5% of the UAV market in 2035.
Final words from the Porsche experts: “Whether vertical mobility becomes commercially successful and socially accepted, will depend on establishing public approval.” Further to this, the analysts point out that “a framework of rules and regulations is needed, ensuring eVTOL devices’ broad acceptance at an appropriate price and noise level.”
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