March 28, 2017 —
The commercial, non-hobbyist UAS fleet is expected to grow from its current level of 42,000 up to between 442,000 and 1.6 million by 2021, according to forecasts by the FAA. Pilots of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) vehicles are expected to increase in number from 20,000 to between 200,000 and 400,000 by 2021.
“Predictions for small UAS are more difficult to develop given the dynamic, quickly-evolving market,” the government reported. “The FAA’s non-hobbyist (commercial) UAS fleet size forecasts contain certain broad assumptions about operating limitations for small UAS during the next five years based on the basic constraints of the existing regulations: daytime operations, within visual line of sight, and a single pilot operating only one small UAS at a time.”
The forecasts contain differing assumptions about how quickly the regulatory environment will evolve, enabling more widespread routine uses of UAS for commercial purposes.
During the panel, “Unmanned Aerial Systems: The Next Frontier,” at NATE UNITE 2017 earlier this year, Gretchen West of the Commercial Drone Alliance said UAS has been slowed in the tower industry by the Trump Administration’s government-wide regulatory reform initiative. The FAA’s Small Unmanned Aircraft Rule (Part 107) needs modifications to allow growth for the drone industry, she noted.
“We are in a stumbling block position with the FAA and other government agencies,” West said. “At the end of the day, the drone industry is not going to stop because the FAA is stuck. That is going to force the federal government to act, because otherwise they are going to lose complete control over this industry.”
The FAA utilizes a variety of economic data and projections to develop its annual forecast, such as generally accepted projections for the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The FAA annual forecast is consistently considered the industry-wide standard of U.S. aviation-related activities. The report looks at all facets of air travel including commercial airlines, air cargo, private general aviation and fleet sizes.