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Event
23 Apr 2021

Drones & Real Estate: What are the opportunities?

Unmanned aircraft systems, also known as drones, are set to revolutionise how we travel and how products reach their final destinations.

Ultimately, this new technology will redefine how we interact with our built environment. It will affect all property asset classes and will have an indiscriminate effect on property owners of developed and greenfield land. Property owners could capitalise on the drone revolution by installing and facilitating drone infrastructure on their land and buildings and through their airspace.

So what are the key opportunities for landowners that drones could provide?

Added value

Buildings with the potential to host a vertiport on their roof and which are located in well-connected areas could secure additional income streams should they let the roof space to air taxi vertiport providers. By contrast, a vertiport for drone deliveries or just-in-time deliveries may become, in future years, a benefit that tenants expect to see, in the same way as they currently expect to be able to connect to fibre-optic internet. Those engaged in new developments in particular may want to consider whether they want to allow for the possibility of a vertiport on their roof in the future, and consider what they need to put in place now to allow that to happen. For example, if the vertiport is to offer air-taxi services, then the developer might like to think how the public will access the roof from street level without compromising the security of the other building occupiers. The developer might also like to consider how drones can recharge their batteries, before making any onwards journey.

The roofs of multi-storey car parks in particular make ideal locations for potential vertiports. As the top level of these car parks is typically underutilised, vertiports could bring additional revenue to the owners. Similarly, shopping centres with large footfalls could prove a popular location for vertiport providers and shopping centre owners alike as this could bringing additional footfall to the shopping centre from areas which were previously out of its reach. Given the need for drone corridors and/or flight paths, the airspace above buildings and rural properties will also have value in and of itself which landowners and developers can leverage. There will likely be opportunities for third party organisations to broker deals between drones organisations (who will want great connectivity by the most direct means) and landowners within a drone corridor to permit flights over their landholdings. When initially established, skyports for air taxis may even serve as a tourist destination in and of themselves.

And going forward there is likely to be an ancillary increase of footfall in the nearby area which could provide uplifts to retail and hospitality. This, in turn, could lead to a general regeneration or revitalisation effect for the area, thereby increasing overall property values. For industrial estates , the availability of drone connections (and therefore delivery options) could make locations previously unattractive to manufacturers desirable again. If parts can be delivered by drone, rather than by road, then the proximity to key motorways will no longer have the significance it once did.

The use of drones can also help building owners avoid having to install scaffolding or hire a cherry picker for use in inspections, both of which can be quite costly. The use of scaffolding in particular for inspections, being both time consuming and unsightly, has been the cause of a number of landlord and tenant disputes over the years which could now potentially be avoided.

ESG considerations

As drones rely on electric energy, the use of drones in delivering to buildings in an urban setting could drastically cut down on emissions and the associated carbon footprint for both commercial and residential properties – particularly with regards to ‘last mile delivery’. In addition, reducing the number of delivery vehicles on the street would help cut congestion in general and keep cities moving. From a health and safety perspective drones can be used to access and inspect areas that might otherwise pose a hazard to members of the workforce. And because drones can survey pipes underneath the ground without disturbing or damaging the vegetation above, they fit well within an organisation’s ESG policies.

General efficiency

Drones can reduce the time required to carry out a survey and record far more data. This can be particularly useful for deals or transactions that are operating to a tight timescale and budget. They can also be extremely useful during the construction process for assessing on site progress and identify any gaps or inefficiencies early on.

Air taxis can also halve the journey time between key hub locations. Similarly, in manufacturing, significant time savings have been seen where drones have been added to the production line. And more often than not, these time savings translate into cost savings in the long run.

Conclusion

Not all of this will happen overnight and there are still a number of legislative and technological hurdles to overcome. That being said, property owners and developers should start giving thought to how they
want to approach the increased commercial use of drones in mainstream society and how that impacts on their business. Those with large agricultural holdings, for example, may want to consider how they protect their rights to continue to survey their holdings with drones if they do decide to grant access to flight paths over their property to commercial operators. For those considering granting a lease to a vertiport provider in the urban environment, there will be considerations around access, insurance, privacy and nuisance, among others. Having a clear strategy now could save a lot of headaches further on down the line.