A Booming Commercial Drone Market Drowned by the FAA

It hovered over the annual Dartmouth Homecoming Bonfire. “It’s a drone,” my friend explained. A drone? The only drones I’d every really heard of were furtive aircrafts used for reconnaissance missions and surveillance over enemy territory.

But as the Homecoming weekend came to a close and the green “18” finally rubbed off of my chest, I found the incredible video captured by this high-flying piece of technology. I looked further only to find that the drone market, like the footage I just watched, is soaring. With such a sturdy frame and notable flight stability, these drones have the capability to fly with surprising ability; GPS systems reduce and mostly eliminate any flight error of a pilot from the ground.

In response to the booming commercial drone market, companies like GoPro established strong footholds within the industry. And while GoPro tapped substantial profits from major drone producers, the producers themselves have emerged as the ultimate winners. Parrot, for example, a French tech company that specializes in Drone production, marked a 130 percent spike in drone revenue.

So what is it that makes these drones so enticing? Drones offer a glimpse into the future of technology. They produce 3D landscaping for agricultural research that farmers can use for highly accurate aerial data acquisition. Companies like Amazon—specializing in internet-based retail in the United States—hope to utilize drones in the delivery process. Some daring owners even descended their drone into an active volcano, and when the camera melted from the overwhelming heat, the drone, operating through a programmed safety feature, was able to the owner on its own.

While the civilian drone industry is booming, the military drone industry still dwarves it. Currently, civilian drones make up only 11 percent of the drone industry, although analysts expect this percentage to increase to over 14 percent. Though these numbers still seem low, in an aerial drone market expecting to climb to over 98 billion within the next decade, commercial drones still hold an impressive stake (13.72 billion) in earnings.

Although the fiscal state of the drone market is optimistic, there are still obstacles. In recent dealings, the underfunded Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has significantly handicapped the drone industry. Companies like Amazon forewarned the U.S. government that “[they] will have no choice but to divert even more of our [drone] research and development resources abroad.”

On the FAA website, several rules restrict drone users and ads litter the page explaining that “the Super Bowl is a no drone zone, so leave your drone at home”. Because these drones classify as “model aircrafts”, they fall under a specific set of rules. They must remain “below 400 feet, away from airports…and within sight of the operator.” Additionally, the FAA claims the ability to “take enforcement action against [those who]…endanger the safety of the national airspace system.”

Recently, in fact, a drone crashed into the White House Lawn, violating the FAA rules that restrict flight over Washington D.C. In an interview with CNN, President Obama even remarked that the incident only calls for more restrictive regulations on commercial drones.

And so, with the future of these drones looking unclear, we are left to grapple with two different ends of the spectrum. On one end we see a commercial drone industry with considerable potential in the technological world, and on the other the careful yet considerably limiting FAA. As mentioned by an entrepreneur interviewed by Fortune, “There’s still a lot of uncertainty, but the time for this industry is now.”