The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released a new report predicting tremendous growth over the next five years, in “nearly every aspect of air transportation” including unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). Specifically, the FAA predicts that the model hobbyist drone fleet will triple from 1.1 million in 2016 to 3.55 million by 2021. For commercial drones, the FAA says that the growth will depend on the “regulatory environment.” Ironic, since the FAA itself is the agency deciding just how much the commercial drone industry can advance. However, the FAA predicts that the 216,000 commercial drones that were active at the end of 2016 could rise to 442,000 by 2021. This is a growth rate of 58.6 percent.
These predictions, however, says the FAA, are based on “certain broad assumptions about operating limitations for small UAS during the next five years based on the basic constraints of the existing regulations,” like not being able to operate at night, over people or beyond visual line-of-sight. But the FAA also said in its report that it does plan on rolling out regulations that would allow operators to fly a drone without some of Part 107’s restrictions on a “more routine basis.”
The FAA also predicts that the number of commercial drone operators certified under FAA regulations could rise from 20,362 at the end of 2016 to 281,300 in 2021. The FAA says that this report and its predictions are “primarily driven by the ongoing evolution of the UAS regulatory environment, the ingenuity of manufacturers and operators, and underlying demand. While continuing to enable the thriving UAS industry, these efforts will enable the safe integration of UAS into the [National Airspace System].”