FAA forecasts phenomenal growth for UAS industry

By Patrick C. Miller | March 27, 2018

The Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) aerospace forecast for the next 20 years shows rapid growth for the unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) industry over a five-year period from 2017 to 2022.

Predicting “phenomenal growth” for UAS, the agency forecasts that hobbyist drones will more than double from 1.1 million to 2.4 million. The commercial UAS fleet is expected to increase from nearly 111,000 in 2017 to around 452,000 by 2022. The FAA said the number of UAS pilots will go from 74,000 in 2017 to 301,000 by 2022.

“While the introduction of UAS into the NAS has opened up numerous possibilities, it has also created unique operational challenges,” the FAA report said. “Despite these challenges, the UAS sector holds enormous potential, with commercial applications ranging from aerial photography to package delivery.”

The agency noted that by the end of May 2017, more than 772,000 drone owners had registered with the FAA. While mandatory registration was in effect until the last week of May 2017, the trend was one of slowing growth over time.

On average, weekly registration ranged from 4,000 to 5,000 from January through May 2017, with some expected peaks during the holiday season. Following a court order temporarily halting mandatory registration, the online registry continued to accept voluntary registrations from modelers.

President Donald Trump signed the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) on Dec. 12, 2017, which reinstated the registration requirement for all model aircraft. However, the registration data from the second half of 2017 may not reflect an accurate trend for model aircraft growth.

Overall, the FAA said its aviation forecast indicates that air travel in the U.S. is strong “while American air travelers are experiencing the highest levels of safety in modern aviation history.”

“A key to meeting this growth in air travel, while maintaining high levels of safety and efficiency, is to ensure we have the necessary infrastructure to meet demand,” the agency said.