The FAA has released the newest Aerospace Forecast, and there is no surprise that major growth is predicted for the drone industry.
The Unmanned Aircraft Systems section of the Forecast reflects both concerns and optimism for the sector. The FAA says that while “robust growth” in the sector and the introduction of UAS into the NAS “has opened up numerous possibilities, it has also created unique operational challenges. Despite these challenges, the UAS sector holds enormous potential, with commercial applications ranging from aerial photography to package delivery.”
As with last year, the FAA has taken a moderate approach to predictions, offering “Low”, “Base”, and “High” estimates to account for overly optimistic estimates or the possibility of under-counting, a concern especially due to the gap in mandatory registration last year.
The FAA says that this year’s estimate of 1.10 million units extrapolates from the number of units registered with the FAA, over 873,000. The projection is the same as last year, although actual numbers last year proved smaller by about 28%. Still, the growth rate is calculated at about 40% – which the FAA calls “substantial.”
Researchers warn, however, that the industry is unlikely to sustain the same pace of growth. “However, the trend is likely to slow as the pace of falling prices slow and early adopters begin to experience limits to their experiments,” says the Forecast.
The commercial drone industry is new, and because of that, harder to get a handle on. Prosumer drones that may fall under both hobby and commercial categories add to the confusion. About the commercial “non-model” space, FAA says: “It is very dynamic and appears to be at an early stage of growth. Unlike the model sector, we anticipate that the growth rate in this sector will continue to accelerate over the next few years.” In actual fleet estimates, the FAA uses a base number but acknowledges that as new applications open, the rate could go much higher.
While numbers of drones provide some insight into industry trends, perhaps the most telling number is drone operators.
Demand for Part 107 Remote Pilot Licenses has been strong since the program was implemented, and over 70,000 certificates were granted as of December 2017. With strong demand and over 90% of applicants passing the required test, that number is poised to grow.