Our series on drones, known formally as “unmanned aircraft systems” or “UAS,” addresses the growing use of drones in numerous industries across the United States, including construction, energy/oil & gas/utilities, forestry and agriculture, insurance, maritime, real estate, telecommunications and transportation and logistics. Here’s the first installment.

Since the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Small Drone Rule of 2016 largely relaxed the restrictions prohibiting drone use for commercial purposes, industries operating across the United States have been rapidly and increasingly integrating drones into their respective operations.

In fact, there were 42,000 registered commercial drones in the U.S. in 2016. The FAA predicts that number will increase tenfold in the U.S. by 2021.

Furthermore, a recently published market research report, United States Drone Market Review & Outlook 2012-2024 by Segment, Industry and Application Method, available from researchandmarkets.com, noted the following:

  • For several years, the United States has boasted the largest drone market in the world.
  • By 2024, the U.S. commercial and private drone market is expected to be nearly three times larger than it was in 2018.
  • In 2024, there will be four times as many drones sold in the United States as there was in 2018.
  • No country in the world comes close to matching the U.S.’s investment in drones, which partially explains the visibility of commercial drone use in the United States — more than half of all strategic partnerships in the worldwide commercial drone industry involve one or more U.S. companies.

There are numerous reasons many sectors in the United States have embraced drones. The benefits of incorporating drones into operations are abundant and significant:

  • Reduced costs. It is far less expensive to pay for and replace a drone than it is reasonable to risk the safety and life of a human employee in a high-risk scenario.
  • Versatility of services. Drones can perform an ever-growing list of tasks such as inspections, videography and photography, placement of devices, delivery of products and distribution of chemicals.
  • Improved accessibility. Drones can reach places that humans and larger aircraft cannot reach.
  • Enhanced reliability and accuracy of data. As drones are able to collect a large assortment of data in significantly shorter periods of time, the human error factor is mostly removed.
  • Increasingly UAS-friendly regulatory environment. Federal government decision-makers and industry stakeholders are working together to encourage drone use in commercial operations and to foster the integration of drones into the nation’s airspace.

While the United States has seen significant advancements in commercial drone use within the past few years, obstacles remain that prohibit the commercial drone industry from reaching its full potential.

  • The federal regulatory environment, though becoming more drone-friendly in recent years, needs to continue to evolve before drone operations will be truly ubiquitous.
  • Public perception of drones, especially in areas of the country where commercial drone use has not gained sufficient exposure, needs to be modified so that the public will understand the numerous benefits drones can provide to various industries rather than viewing drones as voyeuristic devices that promote trespassing and invasions of privacy.
  • State and local government decision-makers across the country will need to work with federal government leaders and industry stakeholders to facilitate commercial drone operations and remove barriers that threaten to curtail the progression of the industry.