Department for Transport’s Drone Pathfinder Catalyst Programme Leaves Promising Legacy for UK Commercial Drone Use


The Department for Transport’s (DfT) Drone Pathfinder Catalyst programme has completed this year’s aims and objectives.

The programme has accelerated:

  • Commercial drone adoption
  • A deep understanding of the public acceptance of drones
  • Solving technological challenges through Drones Transport Research and Innovation Grants (TRIG: Drones)

Since launching in 2018, the Drone Pathfinder Catalyst programme, delivered by Connected Places Catapult, has provided a transition for the UK from drone trialling to application. The programme focused on what can be done within today’s regulation and technology, demonstrating the benefits to different industry sectors while addressing the challenges and approaches to safety. This included giving evidence to deliver safe, secure, and sustainable drone flight, through working with:

  • Network Rail to demonstrate how drones minimise the risk of trackside working and reduce network outages
  • Yorkshire Housing to demonstrate how drones can reduce the overall cost of planned and preventative maintenance
  • Buxton Mountain Rescue to demonstrate how drones designed for inclement weather can save lives in search and rescue operations
  • The Environment Agency to understand how drones can monitor the UK’s changing coastlines that are increasingly under threat due to climate change
  • AGRI-EPI and a broad range of stakeholders to demonstrate how drones can increase farming yield and reduce the use of fertilisers and pesticides through more targeted application
  • Herotech8 to demonstrate how drone in a box solutions can deliver greater efficiencies and unlock new applications through increased automation

From these real-life examples, Connected Places Catapult developed a Drone Readiness Assessment; a high-level approach for adopting and scaling drone use within organisations. This enables industries and public sector to continue to assess and understand the adoption of drone technology and services to realise the immediate cost saving, productivity, and efficiency benefits. 

The programme saw collaboration with public, private and industry organisations who were able to engage with key authorities such as the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). 

In addition, research into the public acceptance of drones has been achieved through engagement and focus groups with the public through market research and insight partner, Trinity McQueen. 

The Pathfinder also enabled six SMEs to deliver early-stage research and development studies to examine the integration of drones into UK airspace, via TRIG: Drones. Research collected from the TRIG: Drones projects will help the SME’s involved to adopt and utilise these enhancements. 

Henry Tse, Executive Director of New Mobility at Connected Places Catapult said: “The impact of the Drone Pathfinder Catalyst Programme has positioned the UK at the forefront of drone innovation; enabling companies and organisations to capitalise on the country’s world-class strength in drone technology. Now is the time for companies to explore and embrace the potential of drones to be more efficient, more innovative, and more ambitious in how they deliver their services.

“Connected Places Catapult is pleased to have been able to deliver such a successful programme for the Department for Transport; providing a platform for innovators to connect, explore solutions and share information with the drone community. We look forward to seeing what is next on the drone horizon.” 

Transport Minister, Robert Courts, said:The UK is a world leader in innovation and aviation technology and drones play an important role within this sector.

 “We are committed to embracing the benefits of new types of aircrafts and this programme has been a fantastic demonstration of collaboration between Government and the Connected Places Catapult. 

“Its work has helped us identify the potential for wider drone adoption across the UK by showcasing the ability to provide quicker, cheaper and more effective services for the public – from search and rescue, to tackling climate change.”

To find out more about the Drone Pathfinder Catalyst programme, case studies, demonstrations and the Drone Readiness Assessment, visit:

Watch the full highlights of the programme: Drone Pathfinder Catalyst Programme – full highlights

Watch the Showcase video highlights: Drone Pathfinder Catalyst Programme Showcase Video

Related Article