A recent American industry report shows that commercial growth of UAVs is swelling from sea to shining sea but the buffeting winds of errant regulation still pose a muscular risk to this infant sector.
According to a new study released in September by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) — the world’s largest nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of unmanned systems and robotics — the growth of the drone industry has blossomed following the FAA’s increased issuance of Section 333 petitions in May of last year.
“The flood of commercial exemption requests to the FAA shows that a mature UAS commercial market is waiting to be unleashed,” AUVSI lead writer Scott Kesselman stated. “Given the technology’s potential, it is important that the FAA finalize small UAS rules as quickly as possible. Moreover, Congress needs to pass — and the president needs to sign into law — an FAA reauthorization measure before the current authorization expires on Sept. 30, 2015.”
The agency’s limitations notwithstanding, the AUVSI pointed out that the Section 333 process, enhanced by the FAA’s latest streamlining process, has helped the industry emerge from commercial infancy into a nascent, sustainable tech sector for the U.S. The group projects that drone-industry integration will add $82 billion in economic impact to the U.S. economy and create 100,000 “new, high-paying jobs within the first 10 years of UAS integration [beginning in 2013].”
However, the Section 333 process still has the potential to strangle innovation, the report points out. As of Sept. 1, the FAA approved just over half of all petitions – 1,407 of 2,650. “The agency continues to approve about 50 new operations a week,” the report states. “However, the number of applicants continues to greatly outpace approvals.”
Looking under the hood of the domestic commercial industry reveals some fascinating trends and factoids. For example, while 49 states boast FAA-approved drone users (Delaware showed zero), California reported the most with 114 followed by Florida with 97. Unsurprisingly, California, the Land of All Things Techie, also reported having the most federally approved UAV manufacturing platforms with 140.
Aerial photography remains the top industry for drones among the 25 sectors listed and is mentioned in 512 of the last 1,000 Section 333 applications. Real estate, agriculture, construction and film/television rounded out the other top applications along with utility inspection, environmental use, search-and-rescue and insurance.
And to underscore the fact that the drone industry flies from the bottom up as a nascent, startup environment, the AUVSI report found that “at least 84 percent and as many as 94.5 percent of all approved companies are small businesses.” And 320 of those small companies add about $500 billion to the U.S. economy annually.
Under the “no surprises” category, the report revealed that DJI grabbed the lion’s share of total drone platforms used with 1,018 of the 1,480 reported applicants.
Overall, the report points out that the industry’s cooperation with government regulators will make or break future growth. “Government and industry need to work together to permit expanded uses of UAS technology that pose no additional risk to the airspace system,” Kesselman writes. “Otherwise we risk stunting a still-nascent industry and restricting the many beneficial uses of this technology. To achieve this, a risk-based, technology-neutral regulatory framework will be essential to getting this industry off the ground.
Jason is a longstanding contributor to DroneLife with an avid interest in all things tech. He focuses on anti-drone technologies and the public safety sector; police, fire, and search and rescue.
Beginning his career as a journalist in 1996, Jason has since written and edited thousands of engaging news articles, blog posts, press releases and online content.
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