Half A Million Drones Surpassed: Hobbyists Bring Multi-Billion-Dollar Industry Into U.S.

Over half a million drones flown by hobbyists in the past eight months have been registered with the Federal Aviation Administration, FAA director Michael Huerta told a White House gathering on Tuesday, August 2, 2016. The consumer drone success is seen as a precursor to a commercial drone industry boom calculated to add $82 billion to the economy in the next decade, and create 100,000 jobs by 2025.

According to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), the future is bright for commercial drones using the more than 500,000 consumer drones registered with the agency since December, as an indicator. The OSTP touted the rosy outlook though commercial drones need more discussion and the laws that govern them are in disarray.

Quartz reports that the White House crowd listened to speakers explain the potential for drone operations beyond line of sight in the future, based on the half a million plus show-of-strength by consumer drones. Along this idea, the FAA is already experimenting with delivery services using drones. It okayed a test by drone services Flirtey and 7-Eleven to deliver some snacks to a household in Arizona last month.

Quadcopter drone
Regarding the half a million drones it registered in a matter of months, the FAA compared that feat to the 100 years for about 320,000 regular aircraft to be registered in the United States. Though the consumer drone is on average smaller than a plane, helicopter or hot-air balloon, the statistic is impressive for an agency known to move slowly on regulations regarding drones.

According to 24/7 Wall St., as some half a million consumer drones were going official in June, the FAA announced regulations effective August 29 on how businesses can safely and legally operate commercial drones. While comprehensive, the rules still outlaw the use of drones beyond the line of sight of the person flying them. This proviso prevents companies like Amazon, Alphabet, or Wal-Mart from operating a drone delivery service without their pilot walking on the ground alongside the drone, rendering the idea impractical.

While over half of the enthusiasm comes from hobbyists, the OSTP is preparing for a million commercial drones in the air by laying out national guidelines for the operation of non-recreational unmanned aircraft under 55 pounds. Other agencies have been brought in to help ensure that drones do not run into commercial or personal airplanes, or disrupt neighborhoods where drones may hit overhead wires or houses.

Cargo drone
The National Science Foundation (NSF) is expected to utilize over half of a $35 million research fund over the next five years to accelerate the understanding of how to intelligently and effectively design, control, and apply unmanned aircraft to beneficial applications. The rest of the money could go to monitoring and inspecting physical infrastructure, smart disaster response, agricultural monitoring, and studying severe storms.

The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) could use half of its time operating unmanned aircraft for search and rescue operations, and the other half augmenting manned aircraft operations, and improving government processes around technological application. The requisite million-dollar budget would be a given in testing the potential of drones.

The state of New York will have won half the battle by committing to a $5 million down-payment in support of the emerging unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) industry across New York. Talk of taxi drones abounds.

According to Newsmax, Michael Huerta‘s comment regarding over half a million UAS units was made at the first-ever Workshop on Drones and the Future of Aviation sponsored by the White House. The workshop reportedly drew an assembly of experts and researchers across industry, academia, and government to talk policy, research and development, and the technology of unmanned aircraft systems.

Huerta’s Tuesday remarks focused on the FAA’s robust registration response. The hobbyists needed a Certificate of Aircraft Registration/Proof of Ownership and a unique identification number marked on the aircraft, to operate their half a million or more drones. Huerta said the registration announced in January, allowed the FAA to link particular drones with their operators when users were not following rules and assisted in enforcement of UAS policy.

“It also gives us a valuable opportunity to educate users about how to fly their unmanned aircraft safely. We’re encouraging operators to download our free smartphone app, B4UFLY, which lets you know where it’s safe and legal to fly a drone. It’s available for both Apple and Android devices, and it’s already been downloaded more than 85,000 times … In addition to educating hobbyists, we’re putting a regulatory framework in place to address the commercial use of drones as well.”

According to the FAA, about 5,000 companies have already started using drones in their business based on the makeshift regulatory framework in place. It remains to be seen how over half a million drones claiming airspace, will change the rules on flying farther than line of sight.

[Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images]