Until a couple of years ago, drones were a common theme in Hollywood-produced science fiction films that attracted America’s eyes and awe. Now, the United States is a vital player in the world of drones.
As one of the biggest players in the drone game, the US has been recognized as a champion in drone innovation and regulation. The American drone market is growing rapidly and it’s estimated that by 2024 it will be triple the size it was in 2018. This ties in with the global drone investments, which just in 2018 amassed 702 million dollars. Over 50% of those investments went into the hands of US companies.
At the time of writing this article, USA has nearly 900,000 registered drones in its records. Around 340,000 of those are commercial ones whereas more than 500,000 are recreational drones. There are around 3,500 paper registrations. And the numbers are only growing!
According to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)D
The country is also famous for its FAA-issued regulations, vast opportunities for research and innovation straight from tech hubs like the Silicon Valley, a dense drone ecosystem, and more. This speaks volumes about the country’s strong belief in tech and using drones for good.
Snapshot of the US Drone Industry
Globally speaking, the consumer drone market has experienced unprecedented growth due to game-changing innovations, an abundance of competitors, changes in prices, and similar, between 2012 and 2017. From then on, the situation became clearer as drone players like DJI, Parrot, Yuneec, and others went ahead of the competition.
Indeed, 2016 was a vital year for the US and drones as the FAA offered plenty of exemptions for companies to fly drones through Part 107. This was the tipping point when many industries got the much-needed boost by including drones in their daily operations.
Despite the turbulent relationship between the United States and the Chinese drone manufacturer, DJI remains one of the biggest and most popular brands among American drone pilots.
When it comes to global revenue thanks to drones, the United States generates the most of it. To be more precise, the number reached 1,029 million USD in 2021. The growth of the market set to increase by an annual rate of 7.8%.
Subsequently, insights point out that sales of consumer drones to dealers in the US has exceeded 1.25 billion dollars in 2020.
Not all companies need drones full-time every day. Yet, a recent survey by CompTIA suggests that a big number of them do regularly. Moreover, 40% reported a general ongoing usage for drone technology. On the other hand, less than a fourth of the respondents described their drone use as situational or a one-time thing. The same survey recognizes changes in the regulatory environment and expansion of services as a few of the primary drivers of growth according to drone providers.
Based on a variety of factors like suitable laws, drone task force or program offices, and drone jobs, Mercatus Center ranks US states based on how ready they are for the drone industry. The first spot for the second year in a row is occupied by North Dakota as the most prepared state. It’s followed by Arkansas, Oklahoma, Nevada, Virginia, Georgia, North Carolina, New Jersey, Delaware, and Texas to round up the top ten states.
Factors for Growth of the American Drone Industry
While there are a plethora of reasons why the drone industry in the US is so developed, we analyze a few of the crucial ones.
To begin with, the drone regulations are more or less in line with the laws worldwide. This makes flying easier for every member of the drone community. What’s more, the FAA is very transparent with the rules as they’re visibly displayed on their portal for UAS (unmanned aircraft systems). All drone pilots have to do is to determine the purpose of the flight and follow the rules accordingly. Related to regulations, the Remote ID is one of the hottest topics, which will enable the broadcasting of the position and telemetry of your drone for a safer flight.
The efforts for developing a UTM (unmanned traffic management) system haven’t gone unnoticed. The administrative infrastructure has been growing and tries to develop this type of system that will benefit everyone who works with drones. Also, this brings a lot of waivers and exemptions for more drone innovations. For instance, Alphabet’s Wing got special approval for commercial drone deliveries.
The United States is home to some of the biggest global drone players. The ecosystem map of members is denser than ever, which is exciting for American drone fans. The demand for both hardware and software, as well as drone services, is growing. So, this resulted in many drone companies and startups, which we’ll talk about more below. One example is the made-in-America, drone delivery company Zipline, which raised $190 million for its operations. Zipline’s medical drones have been making it to the headlines all over the world when they started delivering medical equipment and COVID-related aid during the pandemic.
Organizations and companies like these have opened the door for advanced drone applications. Drones are becoming an integral part of other industries, too. We’re talking about industries like surveillance, construction, aerial photography and videography, mapping, agriculture, delivery, and more.
Moreover, successful drone integration warrants spaces for testing and developing flying skills. That’s when drone test sites enter the picture. According to Market Scale, experts point out they are crucial for the growth of the drone industry in the US.
The US is characterized by a collaborative drone community. As mentioned above, the number of drone pilots is huge. With that being said, companies work with drone-related entities regarding their drone initiatives. Besides drone pilots and drone service providers, they include business consultants with know-how in drones, media companies with drones, architectural companies with knowledge in drones, surveying companies that operate with drones, and similar.
Investment in technology like 5G networks as well as learning and educational opportunities for drone pilots further propel the ecosystem forward, too.
Which are the Industries Where Drones Are Applied the Most?
Drones’ future lies in their wider usage. Slowly but surely, they find their way into people’s everyday lives. Starting from agriculture and insurance to journalism, they will become an inseparable component of all industries and processes.
According to PWC, the market of commercial applications is $127 billion worldwide. This leaves space for innovative and commercial usage of drones in every sector where they are needed. Regardless of the traditional drone applications, we’ll take a closer look at some buzz-worthy industries where drones are recently being introduced.
The startup Zipline from Silicon Valley already uses drones to bring supplies of blood and vaccines in secluded areas in Africa that are without proper infrastructure. This kind of delivery by drone is suitable for many medical purposes. That’s the case especially in areas that are hard to get to by other means.
Credits to Wing
Aside from this, delivery of commercial products is made easier, more efficient, and cheaper thanks to drones. Especially in countries like the United States, this is becoming a practice with giant companies like Amazon, Uber, and Alphabet’s Wing trying to bring their products to the customers in record time with the help of drones. One such program is Amazon Prime Air.
As drones are fast and can fly high enough, they are successful at creating maps. The bird’s-eye views contribute to easier mapping out of all areas and 3D mapping. Therefore, industries like agriculture, construction, and mining benefit greatly from drones. They help farmers and workers identify areas with crops, gather data, see where to build and mine, and similar.
Inspecting and Collecting Videos
Connected to the previous one, drones can patrol over different places and ensure their security from above. That way, people can react accordingly and evade dangerous and harmful situations. They can also inspect them and offer aerial analysis in terms of infrastructure, electric grids, solar panels, pipelines, and similar.
Their ability to collect high-quality video footage makes them suitable for movie productions, as well. After all, they are way cheaper than helicopters.
In recent times, drones represent a tool for data transmission more frequently. They can come in handy during large events like concerts and sports games. Simply, everyone in the stadium can’t follow everything that’s happening properly.
Stakeholders and Members of the American Drone Ecosystem
The drone ecosystem in the US is more diverse and versatile than ever before. It appears that the drone ideas that don’t pan out are replaced with others that reinvent (a segment of) the industry.
In just three years (from 2017 to 2020) the landscape has changed dramatically, which is evident in Drone Analyst’s research.
Source: Drone Analyst
Speaking of hardware, passenger drones (also called eVTOLs and air taxis) have been stealing the spotlight for quite a while. Texas-based LIFT Aircraft, for one, takes part in the Agility Prime program. Their take on a drone-like flying car is the eVTOL Hexa. This innovation even had a special presentation before the US Air Force.
A takeaway here is that companies tend to offer specialized products and solutions. They may include drone delivery systems, drone-in-a-box concepts, and more.
Also, a focus on software solutions is evident. The data that drones collect compared with the right tools and the connection with technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and computer vision (CV) have helped drone businesses scale up and find clients. For instance, Insitu, a Boeing subsidiary, operates in the field of drone software besides hardware.
Drone service providers, as we saw with the versatile applications, are booming. Shooting drone videos and photos of special moments or for other commercial purposes have become essential assets for photographers. Also, natural and urban wonders in cities like San Francisco, and states like Massachusetts,Nevada, Colorado, and more, encourage drone pilots to purchase a drone and get snapping.
Aside from the business aspect of the ecosystem, we should mention the Federal Aviation Administration. As a government body, it oversees the aviation regulations, including the ones related to drones.
To prepare the drone workforce, the government, schools, and academia are looking towards a more comprehensive drone education. While two-year schools that offer UAS programs are more common than four-year ones, still one can see the significant progress. All across the country, students can learn more about drones, how to fly them, as well as find out more about unmanned aerial systems for future careers in that field.
Palomar College and the UASTEP Project have come up with a live web map of UAV college programs, which you can check out above. Successful Student has compiled a list of some of the best drone training colleges in the United States, too.
What’s Next for the Drone Industry in the US: Future Steps and Dealing with the Effects of the Pandemic
The pandemic affected all countries severely, including the United States. So, drones turned out to be very useful in emergencies, delivering medicines, test kits, and other supplies that need to get in the right hands quickly. Although the pandemic negatively affected the UAV industry as a whole with the drone commercial market shrinking by around 12%, the future of this industry is bright in the States.
Next, the US is expected to attain the position of the second-largest drone market and see a rise in the commercial usage of drones of around 19% by 2023. Accompanied by the country’s annual spending on the UAV industry, the next decade will be even stronger and more fruitful. Not to mention that the 5G technology and its development only help this process.
A Drone Industry with Lots of Potential
The US drone industry, together with the Canadian drone industry, covers the North American drone market, which now more than ever shows strong signs of potential. There are still no dominant players that can match and compete with DJI. That didn’t stunt the success of US firms. Instead, they have found their specific niches in the market that have launched them to stardom.
If our analysis of the drone industry in the US has motivated you to become a part of it and join the drone pilots’ community, you can check out the criteria for becoming a drone pilot by the FAA.