Every year, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) releases their updated Aerospace Forecast. At 119 pages, it summarizes trends in all areas of aviation. Typical to most government documents, it is thorough in explaining every aspect of the data that is being analyzed. To paraphrase, reading the forecast and digesting all the information put forth is overwhelming for the average reader.

Luckily, researchers at DroneAnalyst summarized some of the most significant trends from the report and provided an overview of the current state of the U.S. drone industry. Here are some of their key findings:

  • In 2019, there were officially more than 1 million registered drone pilots – the total in the United States is now 1.1 million. 
  • Most of the registered pilots were consumers. At the time of the report, the figure was 10,000 shy of 1 million. DroneAnalyst forecasts that registered consumer pilots have surpassed 1 million as of January 2020.
  • That being said, the growth rate of consumer drone fleets dropped to the single digits for the first time ever.
  • The commercial market is not expanding as fast as it did in previous years, though current figures show a 40% growth rate. In fact, the commercial drone fleet has grown 39% from 2018 to 2019.
  • In 2016, the commercial sector made up 5% of the drone market. Today, it is 25%.

This historical data has led DroneAnalyst to conclude that, overall, the consumer drone market is underperforming. Stagnating may be the best term to describe the 6% increase in fleet with a 10% increase in the number of pilots. 2018’s figures were a growth rate of 14% and 17%, comparatively. It is perplexing considering that technology has improved while prices for equipment have gradually decreased as well.

Conversely, commercial industry growth remains relatively healthy at 40%. One factor the FAA’s industry forecast doesn’t capture is activity of existing Part 107 certificated pilots. Previous DroneAnalyst sector reports also point out that the commercial market is dominated by single-employee businesses that pull in less than $50,000 annually. This raises concerns regarding the future long-term viability of the market.

The FAA divides commercial-grade drones into 2 categories: consumer-grade, priced below $10,000, and professional-grade, priced above $10,000. 94% of all drones registered are classified as consumer-grade. It’s important to point out that a lot of professional work can be accomplished with products such as DJI’s Phantom 4 RTK along with Skydio’s R2, X2, and similar models.

The purpose of the FAA’s annual Aerospace Forecast is to gather data about unmanned aerial vehicles entering the market, compared to other aircraft, so that proper regulations can be created. DroneAnalyst acknowledges that some of these findings are flawed but they’re confident that with 4 years of data already in their arsenal, they can assess the accuracy of the information collected and make better assumptions about future drone market growth. 

Future reports and breakdowns will be published on the DroneAnalyst blog.

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