AUVSI - Precision Agriculture Will lead Civil UAS

Ratcheting up the pressure on the FAA enable integration of unmanned aircraft into US national airspace by the Congressionally directed September 2015 deadline, unmanned systems trade association AUVSI has unveiled a report forecasting the economic impact from manufacturing and operating civil UAS.

It will be no surprise that the projected impact is far from small - $13.6 billion in the first three years, $82.1 billion  from 2015 to 2025 - but author Daryl Jenkins, a respected aviation economist, says the forecast is "very, very conservative".

It is based mainly on projected sales of $30,000-40,000 small UAS into the precision-agriculture market, for crop spraying and surveying. The public-safety market - police, fire and medical first responders - could be as large, but Jenkins says he scaled back projected demand because of the budget pressures on federal, state and local governments.

Charts: AUVSI

The model for the rapid initial adoption and steady longer-term growth of the agricultural market assumed by the study comes from Japan (chart above), where small unmanned helicopters were first used to spray crops in the early 1990s. Today there is a fleet of almost 2,400 aircraft performing 90% of the crop spraying in Japan, says AUVSI CEO Mike Toscano.

Because the initial market will be for the small UAS allowed by the FAA, it will take a lot of sales to generate the kind of economic benefit Jenkins forecasts - 110,000 systems a year by 2018, rising to 160,000 a year by 2025.You can see how much of the demand is expected to come from agriculture in this graph (below) from the report.

It will take capital to grow the manufacturers and finance the customers needed to generate and satisfy a market that big, that quickly. Jenkins says AUVSI is working with venture capitalists and agriculture trade associations to make sure the capital, and the demand, will be in place by the time the FAA has the regulations in place that will allow UAS in the NAS.

As would be expected, the study makes much of the jobs that would be created - a forecast 70,000 in the first three years, 34,000 of those in manufacturing, and almost 104,000 by 2025, And of course there is a kicker to AUVSI's report - every year of delay in approving integration of UAS into the NAS would cost $10 billion in lost economic benefit, Jenkins projects. But then that's one big reason for such reports.

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