| WASHINGTON, March 21
WASHINGTON, March 21 The number of unmanned
aircraft, or drones, in the United States will jump dramatically
over the next five years, the U.S. Federal Aviation
Administration said on Tuesday.
The increase comes after the Obama administration in 2016
implemented new rules that opened the skies to low-level small
drones for education, research and routine commercial use.
Policy makers are still debating whether to allow a sweeping
expansion in drone use for activities like deliveries where
aircraft would fly beyond the sight of an operator.
The FAA said it estimates the fleet of small hobbyist drones
will more than triple from an estimated 1.1 million vehicles in
2016 to more than 3.5 million by 2021. The agency also estimates
the commercial drone fleet will grow from 42,000 at the end of
2016 to about 442,000 aircraft by 2021. The aviation safety
agency said there could be as many as 1.6 million commercial
drones in use by 2021.
The FAA said Tuesday the key difference in its estimates of
commercial drone growth is in "how quickly the regulatory
environment will evolve, enabling more widespread routine uses
of (drones) for commercial purposes."
The FAA on Tuesday also predicted the number of pilots of
drones is expected to increase from 20,000 in 2016 to a range of
10 to 20 times as many by 2021.
Since August, the FAA has approved more than 300 waivers
for drone use without some restrictions, including Union Pacific
Railroad, BNSF Railway Co owned by Berkshire Hathaway
, Intel Corp, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts
, Time Warner's HBO and CNN units.
Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao told firefighters in a
speech this month that "while drones have a lot of potential to
assist responders, they can also pose a problem if not carefully
Current drone regulations require a certified pilot to stand
ready to intervene in any commercial drone flight and keep a
line-of-sight view of the aircraft.
Both Amazon.com Inc and Alphabet Inc's Google unit
have been exploring the use drones to deliver goods
The White House said last year unmanned aircraft could lead to
$82 billion in economic growth by 2025 and support up to 100,000
The August rules were aimed at allowing drone use for
agriculture, research and development, educational and academic
use, and powerline, pipeline and antenna inspections, along with
aiding rescue operations, bridge inspections, aerial photography
and wildlife nesting area evaluations.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Andrew Hay)