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CEA Research: UAS Could Reach 1M U.S. Flights a Day in 20 Years

May 5, 2015  - By
Image: GPS World

The United States will reach one million unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) flights per day within the next 20 years, given the right regulatory environment, according to new economic research from the Consumer Electronics Association.

Brian Markwalter, senior vice president, market research and standards, CEA, shared the association’s domestic UAS economic analysis at the Unmanned Systems 2015 Conference in Atlanta, Ga.

“This is a billion-dollar technology market literally just waiting to take off,” Markwalter said. “We see a dynamic market with tremendous growth potential, once we have final Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rules to allow commercial UAS operation, combined with continued industry and FAA cooperation to achieve low-risk, beyond-line-of-sight flights.”

“With the right regulatory environment, drones will be safely integrated into our transportation system — displacing noisy trucks, reducing urban traffic, cutting our fuel consumption and carbon emissions,” said Gary Shapiro, president and CEO, CEA. “This will allow for game-changing innovations such as the quick delivery of life-saving diagnostics and medicine, improvements in crop production and efficiency, and safer work environments for those who inspect and maintain our buildings and bridges.”

According to the CEA research, the U.S. UAS market is indeed growing, but risks falling behind in the global market because of fewer or more progressive regulations in other countries. In fact, as the U.S. awaits further FAA rules regarding the commercial use of UAS, CEA’s research estimates a pent-up market demand of $150-$200 million in UAS sales for “line of sight” operations.

Only hobbyists and the do-it-yourself community now are allowed to fly UAS in the U.S., enough to fuel a robust U.S. consumer market with the potential to reach $250 million by 2018. However, if the FAA remains on track to complete its line-of-sight rules for commercial operators within three years, CEA’s research foresees another $200 million in growth. Additionally, with the continued development of “sense and avoid” technology and FAA rules that foster “beyond-line-of-sight” operations, the United States’ UAS industry could become a $1 billion market.

“The ability for beyond-line-of-sight is the true game changer—opening the door to autonomous UAS operation and unleashing a remarkable economic potential,” said Markwalter. “The United States has a long history of being a technology leader—and we’ve led the world at almost every stage of flight innovation. But we have more work to do on UAS. Realizing these economic gains will require ongoing FAA and industry cooperation, as well as a commitment to the necessary infrastructure.”

CEA market research expects 2015 to be a defining year for unmanned systems, with the category ideally positioned for steady growth. According to CEA projections, the global market for consumer UAS will approach $130 million in revenue in 2015, increasing by more than 50 percent from 2014; with unit sales of consumer UAS expected to approach 425,000, an increase of 65 percent.

“Right now, more than six billion packages are delivered every year in the U.S., weighing less than three pounds apiece on average — perfect candidates for drone delivery,” said Markwalter. “The autonomous operation of UAS for the delivery of everyday items would not only lower the cost for consumers and improve delivery times, but also be a significant driver of our tech economy.”

This year CEA debuted the Unmanned Systems Marketplace at the 2015 International CES, with 15 UAS companies — almost four times as many as last year — covering 7,600 square feet of exhibit space. At CES, Shapiro announced CEA’s support of the UAS safety campaign “Know Before You Fly,” which provides prospective UAS operators with the information and guidance they need to fly safely and responsibly.

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