CEA Research: 1 million UAS flights a day likely

By Emily Aasand | May 07, 2015

New economic research from the Consumer Electronics Association says the U.S. will reach one million unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) flights per day within the next 20 years, given the proper regulatory environment. Brian Markwalter, senior vice president of market research and standards at CEA, discussed his company’s research this week at the AUVSI Unmanned Systems 2015 conference in Atlanta, Georgia.

“This is a billion-dollar technology market literally just waiting to take off,” said Markwalter. “We see a dynamic market with tremendous growth potential, once we have final U.S. Federal Aviation Administration rules to allow commercial UAS operation, combined with continued industry and FAA cooperation to achieve low-risk, beyond-line-of-sight flights.”

According to the CEA research, although the U.S. UAS market is growing, it’s falling behind the global market because of fewer or more progressive regulations in other countries. As the U.S. awaits for further ruling, the CEA estimates a pent-up market demand of $150-$200 million UAS sales for line-of-sight operations. In 2015, the CEA projects the global market for consumer UAS to approach nearly $130 million in revenue.

“With the right regulatory environment, drones will be safely integrated into our transportation system—displacing noisy trucks, reducing urban traffic, cutting our fuel consumption and carbon emissions,” said Gary Sharpiro, president and CEO of CEA. “This will allow for game-changing innovations such as the quick delivery of life-saving diagnostic and medicine, improvements in crop production and efficiency, and safer work environments for those who inspect and maintain our buildings and bridges.”

The research showed that if the FAA remains on track to complete its line-of-sight rules for commercial operators within three years, $200 million in growth is possible. With the development of sense-and-avoid technology and FAA rules that foster beyond-line-of-sight operations, the U.S. UAS industry could become a $1 billion market.

“The ability for beyond-line-of-sight is the true game changer—opening the door to autonomous UAS operation and unleashing a remarkable economic potential,” said Markwalter. “The U.S. has a long history of being a technology leader—and we’ve led the world at almost every stage of flight innovation. But we have more work to do on UAS. Realizing these economic gains will require ongoing FAA and industry cooperation as well as a commitment to the necessary infrastructure.”

This week at the AUVSI Conference, the FAA announced a partnership with the industry to explore the next steps in unmanned aircraft operations beyond the type of operations the agency proposed in the draft small UAS rule it published in February.

“Government has some of the best and brightest minds in aviation, but we can’t operate in a vacuum,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “This is a big job, and we’ll get to our goal or safe, widespread UAS integration more quickly by leveraging the resources and expertise of the industry.”

The FAA said it will be working with industry partners, including CNN and PrecisionHawk, a UAS and remote sensing company, to focus on three areas, including: visual line-of-sight operations in urban areas, extend visual line-of-sight operations in rural areas, and beyond visual line-of-sight in rural and isolated areas.

“Even as we pursue our current rulemaking effort for small unmanned aircraft, we must continue to actively look for future ways to expand non-recreational UAS uses,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. “This new initiative involving three leading U.S. companies will help us anticipate and address the needs of the evolving UAS industry.”  

“We’re glad the FAA recognizes the vast potential for UAS innovations and applications by initiating this research,” said Douglas Johnson, vice president of technology policy at CEA. “And we’re equally excited that the administration itself believes this testing could result in FAA-approved beyond-line-of-sight operations within the next few years.”


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