SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – The Federal Aviation Administration said in a report Wednesday it expects sales of drones to double by 2020 after the agency finalizes regulations later this year.
Currently, it is relatively easy to get into flying drones as a hobby. However, it is more difficult to get cleared to use them for commercial purposes.
The FAA said drones will soon be the biggest growth sector in aviation, as Americans are expected to buy about 2.5 million drones this year. The FAA believes more than 7 million drones will be sold each year by 2020.
About two-and-a-half years ago, Tom Baird said his wife allowed him to splurge on his first drone purchase. Baird now operates Midwest Droneworks.
“[It] started out solely as hobby use and due to current FAA guidelines and regulations, [and I] continued to do it just strictly for hobby purposes,” Baird said.
Since Baird got his new toy, he has learned it has many practical applications, like looking for a missing person.
“There is infrared technology to where you can have a second camera on the drone that picks up heat signatures instead of color,” Baird said.
The FAA created a registry for users about a year ago, and the rules about what hobbyists can and cannot do are pretty clear. For example, hobbyists are not allowed to fly their drones within five miles of an airport.
“I think the FAA was struggling with how we educate new users,” said Former FAA Assistant Administrator Scott Brenner in a 2015 interview with CBS News. “And by creating this registry we will have direct link to every user which will allow us to do a tremendous amount of education.”
However, if Baird wanted to sell the video he captures from the skies, the FAA treats that like he is selling a boarding pass on a Boeing 747.
“You must have what’s called an exemption 333 and along with that you must also have a pilot’s license which kind of sets the bar high for people buying drones,” Baird said.
Later this year, the FAA is expected to finalize rules for commercial use of drones.
Users would likely have to pass an aeronautical knowledge test and a TSA background check.
“[There are] just a couple things that I’ve been approached about doing but haven’t because I’ve been doing it as a hobby,” Baird said. “One is monitoring construction sites. Also, real estate. A lot of people who do have their 333 exemption are able to go out and film houses.”
The FAA expects to have the commercial regulations finalized by late spring or early summer.