The UAV propulsion systems market is anticipated to grow at a CAGR of more than 12% during the forecast period.

  • As the customization of commercial UAVs is quite cheap, it paves the way for new functionalities in a wide array of niche spaces. Sophisticated UAVs have started doing everyday tasks, such as fertilizing crop fields on an automated basis, monitoring traffic incidents, surveying hard-to-reach places, etc. Over the years, the usage of drones have penetrated into several applications in the commercial sector, such as aerial photography, express shipping and delivery, gathering information or supplying essentials for disaster management, geographical mapping of inaccessible terrain and locations, building safety inspections, precision crop monitoring, unmanned cargo transport, law enforcement and border control surveillance, storm tracking, and forecasting hurricanes and tornadoes.
  • The inherent benefits of integrating an electric-propulsion system to different UAV platforms is also driving adoption of electric propulsion technologies at a much faster pace than their other counterparts. For instance, an electrical propulsion system provides more flexibility in the installation of machinery as they are compact in nature, and due to the absence of several moving components of the drivetrain, they weigh less and hence contribute toward weight savings and endurance enhancement of a particular UAV model. Besides, the emergence of global green emission initiatives has encouraged adoption of eco-friendly propulsion technologies, such as electric propulsion.

Key Market Trends

Development of New Generation UAV Engines is expected to Drive the Market During the Forecast Period

UAVs have evolved into increasingly capable platforms deployed for a wide variety of applications. The capability to fight effectively in urban areas against widely dispersed forces, while minimizing collateral damage and achieving information superiority has enabled the UAVs to play a greater role in critical missions. The increasing demand and reliance on UAV in warfighting and peacekeeping operations has doubled the pace of UAV-related R&D in recent years.

The endurance of a UAV is influenced by the propulsion technology used and is dependent on the aerodynamic design and amount of fuel carried. To fulfil the energy requirements of a large variety of UAVs, several variants of piston-engines and electric motors have been designed by the market players. The potential benefits of a propulsion system are measured by their impact on the costs of the whole UAV. Lightweight, more fuel-efficient engines permit usage of expensive payload for a given mission without significantly affecting the size and cost of the UAV. In recent years, electric propulsion system has gained more popularity amongst small or mini UAVs for its apparent advantages: quiet operation, easy and safe to handle and store, precise power management and control.

The commercial and military UAV manufacturers have long been strategizing over the adoption of alternative propulsion technologies for UAVs. With several vendors experimenting with such innovative technologies, the dependence of UAVs on fossil fuels have been reduced significantly. Recently, hydrogen fuel cells have emerged as a viable alternative fuel to replace Li-ion batteries in smaller drones, and their efficiency in terms of weight/power ratios are increasing rapidly. They offer compelling value for UAVs due to improved reliability over small internal combustion engines, enhancing safe and low maintenance operation. UAV systems powered by fuel cells operate longer than their battery counterparts, with the same benefits of low thermal and noise.

Asia-Pacific is Expected to Generate the Highest Demand During the Forecast Period

The Asia-Pacific region is expected to generate the highest demand for UAV propulsion systems during the forecast period. This increasing demand is mainly due the increasing orders for different UAV configurations for a plethora of military and commercial applications. Investments in the drone start-ups are projected to grow in several countries in the region necessitating the implementation of well-defined regulatory policies. For instance, in August 2018, India permitted the use of UAVs for commercial mapping, surveys and photography after elucidating the necessary regulations.

In the Asia-Pacific, several modernization programs are underway to enhance the current capabilities of the commercial and military end-users in the region. For instance, in October 2019, Elbit Systems Inc. received a USD 153 million contract for delivering 1,000 units of THOR drones and other UAVs to an unknown Southeast Asian country. Similarly, in September 2019, China unveiled the GJ-11 Sharp Sword stealth attack drone capable of being deployed for a variety of missions, ranging from reconnaissance and electronic countermeasures to enabling targeting and battle damage assessments for the carrier killer missiles. Such developments are envisioned to drive the growth prospects of the market in focus during the forecast period.

Competitive Landscape

The prominent players in the UAV propulsion systems market are Hirth Engines GmbH (UMS SKELDAR AG), Honeywell International Inc., Rolls-Royce plc, BRP-Rotax GmbH & Co KG, Ballard Power Systems Inc., and MicroMultiCopter Aero Technology Co., Ltd., amongst others. These companies are majorly into design, manufacturing, and integration of complete propulsion systems for compatible UAV models. The market is highly competitive and products with cross compatibility are being released by players such as MicroMultiCopter Aero Technology Co., Ltd. High capital expenditure on account of conducting extensive R&D to develop advanced UAV propulsion systems and enhance their current capabilities poses a threat to new market entrants. Additionally, the use of 3D printing technology in propulsion drives is anticipated to simultaneously generate demand for new system components and designs to cater to the demand for sophisticated electric propulsion systems with reduced size and mass without compromising on relative performance.

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