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DroneAnalyst Report Finds Commercial Drone Fleet Grew by 39% in 2019, Exceeding FAA’s Projections

BY Zacc Dukowitz
20 August 2020

According to a new report from DroneAnalyst called Historical Performance of the American UAS Industry, the commercial drone fleet in the U.S. grew by 39% from 2018 to 2019.

Image credit: DJI

Things did not go nearly as well on the consumer side of things, with the consumer drone fleet only growing by 6%, although the industry hit a milestone with a record 1,000,000+ drone pilots registered by the FAA.

DroneAnalyst’s new report was created from data shared by the FAA in its annual Aerospace Forecast, a report that updates key metrics from the last year and makes forecasts for the next 20 years for everything related to the U.S. airspace, including drones.

Last year’s report garnered lots of attention in the media because it projected that the commercial drone market would triple by 2023. This year’s report, on the other hand, hasn’t been covered by most mainstream media outlets, largely due to being drowned out by news about the ongoing pandemic and social unrest across the U.S.

Below we’ll share some of the key findings from DroneAnalyst, based on the data the FAA shared in its recent report.

[Download DroneAnayst’s full free report, Historical Performance of the American UAS Industry.]

Growth in Commercial Drone Fleet Exceeds FAA’s Projections

Image credit: DroneAnalyst

From 2018 to 2019, the commercial drone fleet* in the U.S. grew by 39%, an amount that David Benowitz of Drone Analyst says is “relatively high.”

*Note: “Commercial drone fleet” is a phrase that refers to the total number of commercial drones registered in the U.S. The FAA defines a commercial drone as any drone that costs $10,000 or more. The FAA defines a consumer drone as any drone that costs less than $10,000.

Although 39% is impressive, it does represent a significant decline—for a few years running now, the commercial drone fleet has seen an incredible growth rate of 100% every year.

That being said, a 39% growth rate for the commercial drone fleet far exceeds the FAA’s forecasts from their 2017-2018 annual report. That report projected that the commercial drone fleet would triple by 2023, with an average annual growth rate of 24.7%—which makes 39% look pretty darn impressive.

Previous years of 100% growth are impossible to maintain without new regulations enabling additional use cases.

– DroneAnalyst

It will certainly be interesting to see what the growth rate for the commercial drone fleet looks like a year from now.

Given that commercial drone use can often save companies significant amounts of money, this could be one segment of the drone industry that survives the pandemic doldrums without significant harm.

Growth in Consumer Drone Fleet Flags

While the commercial drone fleet surpassed the FAA’s projections, the consumer drone fleet’s growth has slowed considerably.

In the FAA’s prior annual report, the consumer fleet had grown by 14%. This year’s report shows a growth of just 6% for 2018-2019, which represents a significant decline.

According to DroneAnalyst’s report, this growth level was significantly lower than the FAA’s prior projections, as shown in the graph below.

Image credit: DroneAnalyst

Speculation abounds regarding why the consumer market is stagnating.

It could be that drone regulations have grown too confusing for consumers, or that drones just aren’t as in vogue as they were a few years back.

What we do know is that price and capability are probably not the culprit—in many ways, consumer drones have hit their stride in the last year, offering impressive functionality at affordable prices.

And lately it seems like more and more drones keep hitting the market which offer impressive technology at relatively low prices. For example, DJI’s new Mavic Air 2 is one of the most robust drones for aerial photography/videography ever made at its price point. And Parrot’s new ANAFI USA, with its dual thermal/visual payload and other professional features offers a competitive option for public safety agencies that don’t have massive budgets.

1 Million Pilot Milestone

Despite stagnation in the consumer drone fleet, 2019 did see a significant milestone for the drone industry, with the number of registered drone pilots in the U.S. surpassing 1 million and reaching a total of over 1.1 million.

These 1.1 million drone pilots own a total of 1.7 million drones.

And the vast majority of these pilots are consumer aircraft owners. In fact, at the end of 2019 consumer aircraft drone pilots were just 10,000 short of the million mark as their own category.

Image source

Changes to DroneAnalyst Leadership Won’t Mean Changes to Its Industry Reports

The DroneAnalyst has had a busy month.

In the last few weeks, in addition to releasing its report on the FAA’s forecast data, DroneAnalyst announced that David Benowitz would be joining the company as its Head of Research.

Benowitz joins the company as its founder, our friend Colin Snow, steps into retirement.

David Benowitz comes to the DroneAnalyst after four years at DJI, where he was a founding member of its Enterprise business. In that role, he spearheaded the launch of a series of industry-first product lines and was key to the establishment and growth of AirWorks, DJI’s annual commercial drone conference.

Benowitz will be working alongsidet the company’s CTO, Layne Van Rhijn. Van Rhijn manages a diverse portfolio of tech and photography websites, and has been extensively involved in the drone industry since 2010. He’s worked on custom projects for clients such as Defence Research & Development Canada, Thompson Rivers University, Bayer Crop Science, JD Irving and others.

According to a recent post by Benowitz, DroneAnalyst will continue to issue its Annual Market Sector Report, covering trends across the categories of Drone Hardware, Software Providers, Business Buyers and Software Services.

Keep an eye out for the annual survey DroneAnalyst uses to create this report, which should be hitting your inbox next month.

Surprised by these findings, or have your own insights to share? Join the conversation in this thread in the UAV Coach community forum.

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