FAA estimates 7 million drones by 2020

FAA estimates 7 million drones by 2020

The Federal Aviation Administration projects that by 2020 there will be 7 million small drones occupying U.S. airspace.

The new assessment, which illustrates the immense challenge of regulating unmanned aircraft, dovetails with updated numbers detailing 582 sightings of unmanned aircraft observed by pilots, citizens and law enforcement the six months between August 2015 and January 2016.  For context, in the previous 10 months, there were 764 incidents observed.      

The FAA, while taking flak for the speed with which it's moving to integrate drones into the national airspace, has made progress recently, such as the requirement that operators register small devices. The registry, couched as an important piece of the regulatory framework of UAS, requires users operating a device weighing between .55 pounds and 55 pounds to register through an online portal.  (Heavier vehicles require a license.)  As of mid-March, there have been over 408,000 registrations, the FAA said.

The agency also formed  an aviation rulemaking committee for a “micro” classification of small UAS – those weighing less than 4.4 pounds -- that will deliver recommendations by April 1. 

Once a small UAS rule is finalized, FAA officials predict that two sectors of sUAS will emerge. Higher-end drones will have an average unit sales price of $40,000; lower-end models will average $2,500 and will meet 90 percent of the demand. 

The total UAS fleet number by 2020 will be 7 million -- 4.3 million hobbyist drones and 2.7 million commercial vehicles.  This number is even more staggering when compared to the agency’s estimate that “[b]etween 2015 and 2036 the number of jets in the U.S. mainline carrier fleet is forecast to grow from 3,946 to 5,339, an average of 66 aircraft a year.”  

The FAA projects the government will only make up 2 percent of the sUAS market, with industrial inspection making up the largest slice at 42 percent. The real estate/aerial photography industry is expected to deliver 22 percent of the market, agriculture applications at 19 percent and insurance at 15 percent.

The government is currently using drones, albeit on a limited basis, for a variety of tasks that include weather and geological observation, natural disaster monitoring and border patrol.

The full text of the FAA Aerospace Forecast is available here.

About the Author

Mark Pomerleau is a former editorial fellow with GCN and Defense Systems.

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