Much of the American public has been familiar with unmanned aircraft for years due to the military’s continued and controversial use of drone strikes in the Middle East. However, just recently consumers have been introduced to drones that differ greatly from the grey behemoths that haunt the skies of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Sales of these small models have surged as everyone from filmmakers to farmers find a use for the flying machines. In fact, over the last two years the global market for nonmilitary drones has grown from little more than science fiction fantasy to a $2.5 billion industry.
While the average military drone costs about $40 million, some recreational drones can be purchased for as little as $50. Meanwhile, companies operating in countries like France, Japan and Australia have been buying drones in droves for commercial purposes. Matters are different in the U.S., though, since the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has placed a ban on using drones for commercial use. The government wants to wait until FAA officials have had time to draw up comprehensive guidelines on drone usage, a process that could take up to a year to finish.
Still, a few American businesses have received special exceptions. Last year six movie companies got the green light to film with the flying machines. An Alaskan mining operation was also given permission to use drones in order to monitor oil operations. Many more companies want to add drones to their ranks due to the machines’ unique ability to soar above the reach of cranes but below the flight path of airplanes. Farmers want to fly drones over their fields in order to survey crop yields while construction companies want them to provide a comprehensive outlook of big work sites. Amazon even wants to start delivering packages to customers with unmanned aircraft. Drone manufacturers are currently developing models to serve these needs, but they’ll have to wait for the FAA’s regulations to be put in place before commercial drones can take to the sky.
- Is it likely the FAA will approve the use of drones in the next year?
- Will the use of drones impact delivery companies such as UPS?
Source: Clay Dillow, “Get Ready for ‘Drone Nation,’” Fortune, October 8, 2014. Photo by: Don McCullough.