According to the FAA’s aerospace forecast for fiscal years 2018-2038, the small model (hobbyist) UAS fleet is forecast to more than double in size from 1.1 million vehicles in 2017 to 2.4 million units in 2022. The average annual growth rate over the five-year forecast period is 16.9%.
The FAA has also developed high and low ranges around the small model UAS fleet forecast, reflecting uncertainty about the public’s continued adoption of this new technology, the agency says.
In the high case, the small model UAS fleet by 2022 is about 3.2 million units. In the low case, the small model UAS fleet by 2022 is about 2.0 million units.
On the other hand, according to the report, the small non-model (commercial) UAS fleet is forecast to grow from 110,604 in 2017 to 451,800 in 2022. The average annual growth rate over the five-year forecast period is 32.5%.
In a high case, the small non-model fleet is 717,895 in 2022, and the average annual growth rate over the five-year forecast period is 45.4%. As for a low case, the FAA says in its report that “unlike the model counterpart, it is extremely difficult to put a lower bound on the growth of the non-model sector due to its composition (i.e., consumer vs. professional grades) and the varying business opportunities and growth paths.”
FAA Aerospace Forecast Shows Opportunities Abound for Commercial UAS
Source: FAA Aerospace Forecast
The FAA notes that its small non-model UAS fleet size forecast contains certain broad assumptions about operating limitations for small UAS during the next five years, based on the basic constraints of existing regulations, including daytime operations, within visual line of sight, and a single pilot operating only one small UAS at a time. The main difference in the high and base forecasts is the differing assumptions on how quickly the regulatory environment will evolve, enabling the more widespread routine uses of drones for commercial purposes, the agency explains.
The report says the commercial sector is divided into two types of drones: consumer-grade, averaging $2,500 per unit, and professional-grade, averaging $25,000 per unit.
“Currently, the consumer-grade dominates the non-model sector, with a market share approaching 98 percent,” the report says. “However, as the sector matures and the industry begins to consolidate, the share of consumer-grade non-model aircraft is likely to decline but remain dominant. By 2022, FAA projects this sub-sector will have less than a 90 percent share of the overall consumer-grade non-model UAS sector.”
As for commercial uses, the FAA says, “A review of market analyses and industry information reveals their present uses (following chart) have not changed much from last year”:
Source: FAA Aerospace Forecast
In addition, the FAA forecasts that the number of remote pilots will increase from 73,673 in 2017 to 301,000 in 2022. The average annual growth rate over the five-year forecast period is 32.4%.
The report says remote pilot certifications (RPCs) “are set to experience tremendous growth following the growth trends of the non-model sUAS sector.”
“Starting from the base of 73,673 RPCs in 2017, non-model activities may require over 300,000 new remote pilots in five years, providing tremendous opportunities for growth in employment associated with commercial activities of the UAS.”