Drone Pathfinder Catalyst Programme

The Drone Pathfinder Catalyst Programme was announced in 2021 as part of the continued emphasis across government to promote emerging technologies as a driver for growth. The exploitation of drone technology could present important opportunities for UK industry to become a world leader in commercial drone services and applications.

The Programme is part of a wider programme of work, both government led and across the UK’s public and private sectors, aimed at enabling integration of drones into UK airspace. In 2021 the Programme’s focus was reviewed and refreshed, under the governance of the Department for Transport (DfT), the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and Connected Places Catapult.

In 2018 the Programme’s focus was reviewed and refreshed, under the governance of the DfT, BEIS, the CAA and Connected Places Catapult.  In 2021, the programme was reviewed and refreshed again to form the Drone Pathfinder Catalyst Programme.  This new focus looks at the stage of development of integrating drones into UK airspace by doing accelerating the drones market across the wider UK and non-aviation sectors.  Over the next 12 months Connected Places Catapult will be researching and undertaking development to through vast stakeholder engagement across all UK sectors, showcasing and demonstrating use cases specific to the different sectors as well as providing opportunities for SME’s to become involved through the Drones Transport Research and Innovation Grants (TRIG: Drones) programme.

Government Drivers

Delivering the Government’s build-back-better/plan for growth

The Plan for Growth Build Back Better: our plan for growth – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk) will soon be launching a new innovation strategy that is expected to play out the ambition for and role of technologies, including robotics and autonomous systems in more detail.

Innovation is key to economic growth, and firms that consistently invest in R&D are more productive than those which don’t. Innovation is key to technological change, and technological change accounted for 70% of UK productivity growth between 1960-2002.

As a tool that can be deployed across many sectors, drones provide a clear opportunity for the Government to deliver on its growth plan, as well as the Future of Mobility Grand Challenge – one of four Grand Challenges   which aims to make the UK a world leader in the way people, goods, and services move now and in the future. Drones are saving lives and removing people from harm, while also increasing productivity and delivering other economic benefits as noted by PwC . To take advantage of this new market, the Government recognises the need to tackle the challenges, to unlock barriers to operations within current and emerging regulatory frameworks, and to encourage innovation as drone technology develops.

UK drone companies are also exporting their services across the world, further cementing the UK’s place as a global leader in innovative services and generating productivity and growth across a range of international sectors.


The Programme aims to rapidly drive progress in drone technology and regulation enabling industry and the public sector to fully exploit the market in areas such as logistics, geo-mapping, national infrastructure inspections and surveying, and the provision of other commercial and public-sector services. It aims to facilitate the opportunities for organisations to contribute to realising this vision by identifying the commonalities between use cases and facilitating live testing of operational concepts.  Such vision will be achieved working closely with related UK programmes in order to encourage collaboration and strive for consensus.


The Programme will focus on identifying and overcoming technical, operational, and commercial barriers, providing a platform for innovators to engage with government and the regulator at early stages, to jointly explore solutions and to share information throughout the community. This increased engagement will serve to both maximise understanding of the current and future regulatory environment, as well as creating an opening for suggested adaptations to regulations where appropriate. It is envisaged that this will assist in optimising the use of drones in the private and public sectors, enabling efficiency savings, improving their capabilities including the ability to carry out high risk activities in a safer way. In particular, the Programme will continue to explore solutions for safe, routine beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) drone operations across a range of applications, as set out in the methodology section of this document.

In respect of the particular challenges presented in unlocking sustainable BVLOS operations, the Programme will encourage industry to consider a variety of solutions in areas such as airspace access and improved situational awareness, examining a range of aspects from operational to technical. In order to assist this, a number of Pathfinder Challenges have been identified as set out at Part C – Application Guidance that will be relevant when considering submitting an Application for this Programme.

During 2021/22 the programme will be developing and demonstrating use cases from both aviation and non-aviation sectors to showcase the benefits of drones to multiple areas.


The Programme will take a structured approach to achieving routine use of drones within the UK by exploring specifically how routine BVLOS operations could be enabled by overcoming the identified challenges. To ensure that the focus of the Programme remains up to date, the list of Pathfinder Challenges detailed at Part C – Application Guidance will not be a definitive list and may be updated from time-to-time. This will be instigated and managed by the Steering Committee who in their decision making will consider actual industry engagement, the current national needs, horizon scanning and requests received that are beyond current regulatory approval mechanisms.

As progress is made and the Programme evolves, new or existing challenges may be reprioritised based on operational intelligence at the Steering Committees discretion. The Pathfinder Challenges will also be shared, discussed and revised in line with other similar programmes in order to maximise the rate of progression towards finding solutions.

The 2021/22 programme is running opportunities for SMEs to get involved through the Drones Transport Research Innovation Grant (TRIG: Drones) initiative, as well as issuing a request for information for industry members to apply and receive funding towards developing and demonstrating particular use cases. 

It is envisaged that by tackling the identified challenges collaboratively as a community we will start to build a catalogue of standard scenarios which will support future business models, objectives regulatory frameworks, and Government policies. The Pathfinder Community as referred in this document includes the Programme Steering Committee, Project Participants and any participating individuals and organisations, plus external contributors (other Government and non-Government stakeholders, including the Drones Industry Action Group (IAG), related initiatives and interested parties (“Pathfinder Community”).

Featured Event
Join us for the Drone Pathfinder Catalyst Programme Community Webinar on 21st September 2021

These community events provide an opportunity for the UAV community to share experiences and form connections. They include updates and discussions from across the community, as well as from the Pathfinder Steering Group

Become a Pathfinder

Find out how your drone project can become a pathfinder.

Benefits of becoming a Pathfinder include the opportunity to inform Government roadmaps and policy as well as future regulatory constructs, the opportunity to learn from other Pathfinder projects and the Pathfinder Community at Pathfinder Community Days, and access to the CAA Innovation Hub services.

connected places catapult pathfinder programme; drones; UK government innovation; drone technology
The Pathfinder Community

Transport Infrastructure Construction: Sensat, Costain Group, IUK , The Connected Places Catapult

Energy Infrastructure: EIC, Callen-Lenz, Wales & West Utilities, Cadent, National Grid Transmission, Northern Gas Networks, Northern Powergrid, Scottish & Southern Electricity Networks, UK Power Networks, Callen-Lenz, Connected Places Catapult.

Geomapping: Ordnance Survey

Events & Webinars

Learn more about our Pathfinder Programmes at our events & webinars.

Projects & Case Studies

Explore the Pathfinder’s current projects & case studies.

News & Announcements

Discover the latest news & announcements about the Pathfinder programme.

Get in Touch

To find more about the Pathfinders or to get involved, please get in touch at drones@cp.catapult.org.uk

Drone Pathfinder; Connected Places Catapult; Innovation; Drone Technology

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