A new whitepaper from Global Aerospace and DART Drones offers insight on how the drone industry is moving forward to meet the challenges of wide scale implementation. “An Analysis of the Drone Industry’s Progress and Focus on Safety” estimates the commercial drone industry at $500-$700 million currently – a bit less than the “well over” $1 billion analysts predicted in the heady, early days.
The authors understand the industry in terms of 3 tiers of operators. The first is the large number of smaller operators performing missions based around imagery, and using systems that cost under $10,000. The second tier are larger operations investing in equipment to provide services to larger industries like construction or insurance.
While the paper’s authors see some indication that industrial adoption is growing, “the pace is much slower than some had predicted,” says the paper. There are multiple reasons for this, some of them no surprise for the many commercial drone operators who find that there are insufficient paying jobs to maintain a full-time career. One reason for slower industry adoption is the growth of the industry itself – changing too quickly for risk-averse verticals to feel confident stepping in.
“Part of the problem identified is that the aircraft technology is evolving at a significantly
quicker rate than the operating industry,” say the authors. “It is hard to commit significant investment to a particular drone, payload, or service provider if something more sophisticated is right around the corner.”
But that’s not the problem for the next industry tier. “The tier three category is composed of the visionaries. These are high profile companies looking to push the current limits of the industry in ways such as developing systems able to perform package delivery, supply internet services, inspect cross-country pipelines, or conduct search and rescue missions. To visionaries, the possibilities extend as far as the imagination can carry them – well beyond pizza delivery,” says the whitepaper.
That’s where the authors says that the slower pace of development isn’t necessarily due to economic or adoption issues. “What is holding this tier three category back? Broadly speaking, a significant limitation is the lack of regulatory framework to support the use of unmanned aircraft when flying beyond visual line of sight.” The authors recognize FAA commitment and progress towards that goal, but acknowledge that many applications are simply not possible under current regulations.
The second half of the paper is focused on safety. It’s an important and worthwhile read for drone operators and project managers. As the authors point out:”…with “near misses” being a constant feature and the media reporting events every week, it is only a matter of time before the first serious drone incident involving injury surfaces.” One serious incident could do serious damage to the progress that the industry is making with public opinion: and could change the way regulators prioritize drone regulations.
While some larger commercial operators are calling for stricter regulations and enforcement of small operators, one view of the safety analysis put forth is that better education should be the first step taken. Discussion of current near-misses, accidents and crashes is followed by an 8 point practical guide for increasing mission safety. If you’re a drone operator, that alone may be worth giving up your email address to download the paper: because one unfortunate statistic puts responsibility for safety firmly on on you. “At least 75% of accidents are directly attributable to pilot error caused by the operator’s poor knowledge of the system or inappropriate flight response,” says the paper.
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
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