An FAA that could have previously been described as moving at a glacial pace on approving commercial drone operations has taken a much different tact in 2015.
When this year began only about a dozen companies were approved to operate UAVs for-profit, and most of those were film companies approved to fly on closed Hollywood sets. Now, after a bustling June that saw FAA sign off on 222 special exemptions, the total number is up over 700.
Website The Verge recently partnered with the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College on a searchable database of drone exemptions, so here’s a few things we’ve gleaned from sorting through the data.
1.) Real Estate and Film Remain Bullish:
Just looking at the most recent data sets (from June 2015) real estate and film applications commanded nearly half (105 of the 222 approvals) of the FAA exemptions issued. Film company applications have been particularly active, accounting for 185 of the 701 total exemptions with a healthy 165 of those approvals coming down during the months of April, May and June 2015.
2.) Agriculture Hits ‘The Rookie Wall’:
Most prognostications during the early days of drones touted the vast potential of UAV technology in precision agriculture, and although it’s still too early to apply the dreaded bust label to drone applications in farming the hard numbers tell the tale of an application that’s true benefits are not fully fleshed out just yet. The 90 agriculture-focused exemptions represent only 13% of the total exemptions issued, although in recent months (April, May June) ag approvals are trending up as 79 of the 90 (88%) total approvals which have come down over that 90 day period.
3.) Utility, Energy, Infrastructure Start & Stay Strong:
Use of unmanned aerial technology to inspect, and monitor utility and energy infrastructure is proving to be a hugely advantageous use of the technology. You keep more workers safe and out of risky situations, and you can more readily diagnose issues with often-large and remotely located equipment. Commercial drone operation approvals in this realm started strong (53% of the total approvals in March 2015 alone) and have remained so in the last few months (130 total exemptions, or 20% of the total issued).
4.) California Dronin’:
It really should come as no surprise that California leads all U.S. states with 90 approvals. The state boasts a huge and growing population, is the epicenter of film and T.V. in the U.S. and has the most diverse specialty agriculture market in the country. Aviation-focused Florida is next in line with 64 total approvals.
5.) DJI Is Still Winning:
We’re not big fans of tooting our own horn here at DroneLife, but allow us this one quick self-pat on the back. Without any real numbers to back it up, we told you back in June how DJI was winning the Game Of Drones and we weren’t lying. Out of the 711 total exemptions approved through June, 485 indicated they would be flying a DJI product. That comes out to 68% of the U.S. commercial drone market, all using the same companies’ product. Something tells us enigmatic-CEO Frank Wang and his crew aren’t going anywhere, anytime soon.