- The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) projects that the number of commercial drones in the skies could triple by 2023, according to an annual forecast report.
- The growth in the commercial drone market will come as the non-commercial, or model, drone market appears to be slowing. The FAA had registered more than 900,000 owners and some 1.25 million model drones as of the end of 2018, but the market is only expected to grow to 1.39 million units by 2023.
- The FAA says the "thriving" unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) market has brought "operational challenges" integrating the vehicles and pilots into existing airspace.
Companies are just starting to scratch the surface for applications of drones, exploring everything from package delivery to medical services. The FAA last year selected 10 cities for its UAS Integration Pilot Program (IPP), giving governments the chance to test real-world drone applications and see how they would impact airspace. Among the tests are Uber’s partnership with San Diego to deliver food via drone, a way to reduce congestion on streets and curbs. Drones are even being tested for logistics and planning applications, including by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP).
The FAA has been trying to get ahead of the possible airspace problems that would come with growth in drone use. In 2015, the agency required that owners register their drones online in order to better track their use. Registration, the agency says, has continued to grow, although it grew more slowly in 2018. Still, at the current rate, the number of commercial drones by the end of this year is projected to surpass last year’s projections for the year 2022.
Other governments have also tried to get ahead of the potential drone congestion issues. DriveOhio, the state’s autonomous vehicle research office, recently announced a partnership with the Ohio UAS Center to work on an unmanned traffic management system that would allow for more drone deliveries. Chula Vista, CA is also courting UAS researchers to work on logistics issues. With the market set to continue growing, expect more governments to tackle new applications and permitting issues.