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Drones in the USA, courtesy of News Ledge
Drones are quickly becoming omnipresent in the United States, and the FAA has the exponential growth numbers. A little more than 15 months ago the FAA made the registration of each small UAS (consumer drones) mandatory. The agency was rushing to fill the vacuum of regulations. Within weeks, it had announced over 181,000 drone owners registered in its database.
Fast forward to CES 2017 where FAA chief Michael Huerta announced the figure stood at 670,000. In late March 2017, the agency released updated figures showing more than 770,000 drones registered. A 100,000 uptick in a little over a month.
Business is good for the big drone manufacturers – DJI, Yuneec, Parrot, 3DR and now GoPro. The uptick comes as DJI struggled to keep Mavic’s shipping on time and GoPro suffered a complete recall of its Karma drone.
Here’s how the growth of the consumer drone market looks plotted out. These numbers are for the United States only and do not reflect worldwide sales nor a complete picture of the actual number of drones in use in the U.S.
Hobbyist (consumer) Drones
DJI and GoPro have both ironed out manufacturing issues, and the FAA is expecting robust growth in the sector. While the registration numbers are at nearly 800,000, the estimated fleet size is over 1.1 million. The agency expects this number to more than triple to 3.55 million by 2021 for an average annual growth rate of 26.4 percent.
It’s a midline forecast with a topline estimate at 4.5 million to a low case of 2.75 million by 2021. The agency recognizes the uncertainty over the public’s continued adoption of the new technology. It admits even the topline forecast could be low due to newer models offering greater portability and usability.
The registration growth equates to explosive growth in dollar sales. In the 12 months ending February 2017, dollar sales of consumer drones doubled year over year. And consumers are increasingly wanting new features.
“While 2017 will see mid-tier and entry-level drones (priced under $300) continue to drive unit demand, new form factors and innovations in sensing and imaging technology will help meet the needs of premium drone buyers,” noted Ben Arnold, executive director, industry analyst for The NPD Group.
There is overlap in the market, but the FAA expects the non-hobbyist fleet to grow at an even more rapid pace. In 2016, the number stood at 42,000 due to stringent commercial requirements. Now that the regulatory environment has softened, it expects the fleet to grow by an annual average of 58.6 percent to 442,000 by 2021.
Its topline forecast is 1.62 million, and the low end is 237,900. Current regulations limit pilots to daytime operation, visual line of sight rules and one pilot for one UAS. The wide difference between the top and low estimates factors in how quickly the regulatory environment will change.
The FAA is already developing an electronic system for commercial operators to quickly gain permission to fly in restricted airspace, which will hopefully end the burdensome paperwork involved in seeking clearance to fly in cities, near airports and other restricted zones.
In addition to the system, companies like DJI are working to develop electronic identifiers for consumer drones using existing technology. It will serve to protect the operator’s privacy while giving government and law enforcement easy access to pilot info if they violate rules and regulations.
Drones are undoubtedly a major growth sector for technology. All it needs are sensible regulations to keep the public safe without hampering the creativity and educational purpose the systems serve. Sound off below on the growth of the consumer drone market.