FAA Forecasts 600,000 Commercial Drones Airborne Within 2016

August 30, 2016 - 2 minutes read

According to a statement released by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), commercial drones are skyrocketing into the mainstream. Some 600,000 are expected to be registered within a year period. (For context, about 20,000 are registered as of this post. That’s steep growth even by iPhone app developer standards.)

But don’t call in the eagles or get out the shotguns — according to FAA administrator Michael Huerta, “Drones are helping to create a whole new means of realizing the American dream.” Industry analysts expect that drone use in commercial applications could revolutionize a variety of US markets — including mobile app development — and not just by delivering packages for Amazon. New York City app developers are flocking to the drone industry, which the Drone Association predicts will generate over 100,000 jobs and $80 billion in economic growth within 10 years, once integrated into US airspace.

The top uses for commercial drones currently are photography, property inspection, agriculture maintenance and filmmaking, according to industry trade groups. Firefighting, safety, and even wildlife conservation have been cited as exciting growth areas once the technology becomes more mainstream.

With the growing pains comes some regulatory hurdles. Businesses can get special waivers, but for most operators it’s still illegal to fly at night, fly over people, operate under heavy wind conditions. Most areas have strict line-of-sight requirements, with drones communicating visuals to smartphones via mobile apps. (The current weight limit is 55 pounds, which is surprisingly heavy.)

New licensing laws from the FAA will also make it easier for drone pilots to get training to operate drones, even beyond line-of-sight. Rather than requiring a traditional pilot licence as a prerequisite, pilots will be able to get drone-specific certification by passing a test.

For app developers, in NYC and beyond, the software implications are huge. Drone software development is already a quietly booming industry among hobbyists. Once drones go commercial, there will be huge opportunities for app developers to reach new audiences through flight logic and creative service applications.

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