France Professional Civil-Use Drones
The French market for professional civilian-use drones shows excellent but partially unrealized promise.
The French market for professional civilian-use drones weighing over 900 grams, per EU regulations now in effect as of 01/01/21, has been showing excellent but partially unrealized promise. These are drones used for media shots, surveillance, security, inspection, agriculture, and various other non-leisure activities.
For full operational flexibility, drones must be CE marked, although some which are not are allowed to operate in some scenarios, but with more restrictions. Professional drones may also need to be certified by the French Aviation Safety Directorate, the DSAC, and pilots must also undergo specific training, become certified, and of course, follow all French and EU legislation surrounding drone flights.
According to industry sources, nearly 16,000 professional drones were registered in 2019, with annual growth of 29.6 percent between 2017 and 2019 (DSAC). This growth is expected to be sustained at about 27 percent through 2024. While many operators and businesses have already been equipped with drones, the pandemic has underlined the usefulness of remote operations for many applications.
The French market is extremely fragmented, with about 8500 professionals in the segment as of 2019 (services, manufacturers, integrators, training organizations), of which about 40 are local manufacturers. French firms such as Parrot, Azur Drones, Delair Tech and Drone Volt are all leaders in this segment here. Many foreign brands are also available, and demand is very price sensitive, making it a challenging market for imported US technology. Because of the ecosystem around aerospace generally in France (thanks to Airbus and other aircraft manufacturers), there are also many local startups and tech clusters focusing on related drone technologies such as sensors.
Many operators are therefore flying only one or two aircraft, meaning in order to touch possible end users it is essential to have some type of distribution, reseller, or sales office in France.
The market is restrained in the short term by regulatory, economic, and technical considerations, many linked to security and safety, which impact how, under what conditions, and which drones may be used professionally. The first stage of EU-wide regulations went into effect in 2021, but additional regulations will be introduced incrementally. In addition, various countries have had their own sets of rules, which now need to be rationalized with those of the EU, making selling and flying still somewhat complicated for both manufacturers and buyers.
In the mid to long term, the increasing clarity on flying and type regulations and the democratization of drone usage across sectors like agriculture, building inspection and construction, surveillance and audiovisual is expected to drive strong demand for civilian-use professional drones. However, experts watching this market have been hoping for huge increases in this market for several years, and only time will tell whether the sector lives up to expectations.
For more information contact the U.S. Commercial Service at Office.Paris@trade.gov.