A study commissioned by the trade group representing the unmanned systems and robotics industry forecasts that unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) will generate $13.6 billion in economic impact in the first three years after they are cleared to operate in the U.S. National Airspace System. It contends that the U.S. will lose $10 billion in potential economic impact every year that UAS integration in the airspace is delayed.
The Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) released the study, “The Economic Impact of Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration in the United States,” on March 12. The study authors are aviation industry consultant Darryl Jenkins and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University professor Bijan Vasigh.
The study assumes that UAS will begin entering unrestricted airspace in September 2015, as specified by Congress in the 2012 FAA reauthorization act. “With that integration date on the horizon, we wanted to qualify the economic benefits to the unmanned aircraft industry of the United States in terms of job creation and economic impact as it results in expanded use of unmanned aircraft,” AUVSI president and CEO Michael Toscano said during a webcast to announce the findings.
In addition to sales revenue, the study predicts that more than 70,000 new jobs will be created in the first three years. The states that are expected to see the most gains in terms of jobs and revenue from 2015 to 2025, are in order: California, Washington, Texas, Florida, Arizona, Connecticut, Kansas, Virginia, New York and Pennsylvania.
Ninety percent of the potential UAS market would be for “precision agriculture” and public safety. Precision agriculture includes remote sensing of crops for problems and growth patterns and precision application of pesticides or nutrients. Public safety includes police, firefighters and emergency medical service providers.
Explaining the forecast methodology, Jenkins said the authors conducted 60 telephone interviews with industry experts to learn their thoughts on the size of the market and the UAS cost structure. “As to the public safety market, the consensus was that the agriculture market will be at least 10 times the public safety market,” the authors state. They assume the adoption rate of unmanned aircraft technology in the U.S. will mimic that of Japan, where the market experienced early growth rates in excess of 20 percent annually from a zero base in 1990 before growth declined.
The most important factor underlying the forecast assumptions, the authors say, is the FAA’s development of guidelines that will allow UAS entry into the national airspace system. “In the absence of these guidelines, this report is simply the opportunity cost to the economy of a good idea that was hindered due to government interference or inaction,” they write.
The FAA has tempered its own forecast of the UAS market. In its 2012 aerospace forecast, the agency predicted a market of “roughly 10,000 active commercial UASs in five years.” In its latest aerospace forecast, released on March 6, the agency predicts that roughly 7,500 commercial small UAS “would be viable at the end of five years.”