Bard Report Shows Strong Growth in Civilian Drones


A new study released today by the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College shows an increasing number of civilian, commercial, and public safety applications for small drones. Researchers looked at nearly 3,000 Federal Aviation Administration non-recreational drone use permits known as Section 333 exemptions in order to examine what types of uses people are citing for drones as well as who is flying them.

The FAA is granting more exemptions for drones than ever before. According to the findings, from the period of September 2014 to December 2015 the number of exemptions rose from just six issued during the first nine months of the period to 249 exemptions issued in May 2015 alone. So far this year, the FAA has issued 1,000 exemptions through the end of February.

“When it comes to the drone industry, the combination of a rapidly evolving technology with a complex rule-making process means that there is a great deal of uncertainty around even the near-term future of this sector,” said Arthur Holland Michel, codirector of the Center for the Study of the Drone and an author of the report.

Not surprisingly, researchers at Bard have identified significant growth in the total number of different intended drone operations proposed by each commercial drone user, and a decline in the number of companies and individuals planning to use their drones for a single narrow purpose. A whole range of industries are now looking at how to use drones. Public safety and emergency services operations is one high growth area, while others like agriculture are starting to lag behind analysts forecasts for use.

The report also identifies Florida and Colorado as the most highly represented states in the drone industry relative to their share of the national population. “Our findings suggest a whole range of potentially fruitful avenues for further inquiry and present a number of intriguing questions with significant implications for the drone industry,” said Holland Michel.

As CivSource has previously reported, drone policy is an emerging area at all levels of government from municipal, to state and federal. Some municipalities have considered closing airspace to drones or allowing individuals to shoot them down if one is found to be flying over private property without permission. Other states were prompted into action following questionable drone use cases. The federal government too has created a national registry for drone permitting and is involved in a research effort to craft airspace rules and pilot training.