Monday, March 19, 2018

Federal Aviation Administration Projects Fourfold Increase in Commercial Drones by 2022: Agency predicts drone pilots will far exceed private manned aviators in a few years

A commercial pilot prepares to fly a Da-Jiang Innovations Science & Technology Co. Phantom drone for a property inspection following Hurricane Harvey in Houston on September 6, 2017.



The Wall Street Journal
By Andy Pasztor
March 18, 2018 5:05 p.m. ET

U.S. regulators expect the number of commercial drones and people flying them to quadruple over the next five years, the latest positive indicator for the industry.

Updated Federal Aviation Administration numbers released last week project about 450,000 such unmanned aerial vehicles will be operating in domestic airspace in 2022, versus today’s roughly 110,000. That increase is anticipated even if federal restrictions are loosened more slowly than growth advocates desire.

The agency also expects the ranks of commercial-drone pilots to climb past 300,000 over the same period, up from roughly 70,000 now. Under what the FAA considers the most likely scenario, both the number of commercial drones and their pilots are anticipated to substantially exceed totals for private aviators and associated manned aircraft.

If drone deregulation gains as much traction as White House, FAA and industry officials envision, the agency estimates overall commercial-drone numbers could top 600,000 by the start of the next decade, or about three times the country’s general aviation fleet.

The FAA document sketches out growth possibilities as new drone designs “become operationally more efficient and safe, battery life expands and regulatory constraints are reduced.” Package delivery and other new business models, according to the agency, represent an “enormous potential” that could boost cumulative annual growth rates close to 50%.

When it comes to recreational uses—which have racked up the most explosive growth so far—FAA experts are dialing back expectations. Their latest forecast indicates the market segment most likely will double to roughly 2.4 million drones by 2021, but that is still a million fewer than the agency predicted just a year ago.

The primary factors, according to FAA analysts, are market saturation and shifting consumer tastes similar to those that negatively affected sales of videogame consoles and video cameras in the past.

Beyond the impressive outlook for commercial drones, proponents already are enjoying an unprecedented surge in attention and political influence across Washington. “We’re committed to helping our greatest innovators develop, test and deploy their technologies here in the U.S.,” Michael Kratsios, the White House’s deputy chief technology adviser, told a federal-industry drone conference in Baltimore earlier this month.

The U.S. “cannot allow the promise of tomorrow to be hamstrung by the bureaucracy of the past,” Mr. Kratsios said.

Jesse Kallman, president of Airbus SE’s drone-services unit, told conference attendees that evolving public perceptions increasingly are making drones “part of everyday life,” while industry officials realize “regulators are not trying to stop things.”

FAA leaders have publicly pledged to use waivers or exemptions—bureaucratic maneuvers to get around existing regulatory hurdles—to pave the way for widespread commercial applications. Some managers are inclined to rely on policy papers to spur growth, because routine rule-making can stretch from 18 to 36 months.

Earl Lawrence, who heads the FAA’s drone-integration office, has told reporters and industry officials he is even considering resorting to emergency rule-making, an unusual strategy, to speed things up. The current regulatory logjam is blocking package delivery and other prospective uses requiring drones to fly beyond the sight of ground-based operators.

“Please come in” to request case-by-case approvals, and “don’t wait for those new rules,” Mr. Lawrence said at the same conference. By distilling real-world experience, “we can write an even better rule down the line.”

In an interview, Mr. Lawrence said lawmakers “could give us the authority” to move more quickly, but “I don’t wait for Congress” in order to propose rules.

Significant hurdles, however,  confront  industry growth. The process amounts to a culture clash pitting aviation’s historic reliance on “extensive testing and training to make sure aircraft and pilots do not experience failure,” against drone innovators focused on “speed, boldness and experimentation,” according to Kenneth Quinn, global chair of aviation for the Baker McKenzie law firm.

As the drone world embraces traditional air-safety culture, according to Mr. Quinn, who represents Silicon Valley clients pursuing unmanned aerial projects, the government “needs to quicken its pace and broaden its experimentation to avoid stifling development.”

Acting FAA administrator Dan Elwell has promised faster progress, while stressing that safety must “continue to guide each step we take,” because it is “the key to the front door of the national airspace system.”

Original article can be found here ➤  https://www.wsj.com

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