Unit sales of commercial non-model small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS) are expected to climb more than 400 percent between 2016 and 2020, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) says in a 20-year commercial aviation forecast.

The FAA Aerospace Forecast Fiscal Year 2016-2020 says sales of commercial sUAS systems will grow from about 600,000 this year to around 2.7 million in 2020. A sUAS includes the unmanned aircraft and its control system.

Phoenix 30 Quad Rotor Unmanned Aircraft Systems. Photo: UAV Solutions, Inc.
The FAA is forecasting explosive growth over the next five years in small UAS. Here is shown the Phoenix 30 Quad Rotor UAS. Photo: UAV Solutions, Inc.

The top five markets for sUAS projected by the FAA include industrial inspection with a 42 percent share, real estate and aerial photography with 22 percent, agriculture with 19 percent, insurance 15 percent, and government 2 percent.

The agency is currently developing a final rule for the operations of sUAS in the national airspace. That rule is expected to be published later this spring.

Once the rule is implemented, the FAA believes there will be two categories of sUAS, higher-end systems that average about $40,000 per unit and lower-end systems averaging about $2,500 each. About 90 percent of these sUAS are expected to be the lower-end units.

Beyond existing regulatory initiatives, which are limited to sUAS operated within line of sight, the FAA says that in the future when systems can operate beyond line of sight “the overall demand for commercial UAS will soar,” adding that multiple systems will be operated by a single pilot. It adds that “Unmanned aircraft systems will be the most dynamic growth sector within aviation.”

The FAA is working with the strategic consulting firm Teal Group on its commercial sUAS forecasting.

The FAA created the forecast to better understand potential demand for an online registration system it established last year for both model and non-model sUAS. Through mid-March there have been 408,000 registrations.

Unit sales for hobbyist sUAS are expected to grow from 1.9 million this year to 4.3 million in 2020, the FAA says.