Skies full of drones?

FAA con­tem­plat­ing whether mil­lions of de­vices will be fly­ing

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - BUSINESS - By Joan Lowy

WASH­ING­TON » So many peo­ple are reg­is­ter­ing drones and ap­ply­ing for drone pi­lot li­censes that fed­eral avi­a­tion of­fi­cials said Fri­day they are con­tem­plat­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of mil­lions of un­manned air­craft crowd­ing the na­tion’s skies in the not-too-dis­tant future.

In the nine months since the Fed­eral Avi­a­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion cre­ated a drone reg­is­tra­tion sys­tem, more than 550,000 un­manned air­craft have been reg­is­tered with the agency, said Earl Lawrence, di­rec­tor of the FAA’s drone of­fice.

Speak­ing at the first meet­ing of a new gov­ern­ment-in­dus­try drone ad­vi­sory com­mit­tee, Lawrence said new reg­is­tra­tions are com­ing in at a rate of 2,000 a day. By com­par­i­son, the FAA says there are 260,165 manned air­craft reg­is­tered in the U.S.

The FAA be­gan is­su­ing drone pi­lot li­censes to com­mer­cial op­er­a­tors less than a month ago. Al­ready, 13,710 peo­ple have ap­plied to take the pi­lot exam, and 5,080 have passed it, Lawrence said. It’s clear the agency’s es­ti­mate of 15,000 li­censed drone pilots by the end of 2016 will eas­ily be ex­ceeded, he said.

The FAA now fore­casts there will be more than 1.3 mil­lion li­censed drone pilots by 2020.

Lawrence asked the 35 com­mit­tee mem­bers and dozens of at­ten­dees at the meet­ing: Will there

even­tu­ally be hun­dreds of thou­sands of drones in the na­tion’s skies? Or will there be mil­lions?

Hob­by­ists and com­mer­cial op­er­a­tors alike are re­quired by the FAA to reg­is­ter their air­craft, but

agency of­fi­cials ac­knowl­edged that they have no way of mea­sur­ing how many un­reg­is­tered drones are in use.

U.S. drone sales are ex­pected to top 2.4 mil­lion air­craft this year, more than dou­ble last year’s sales, ac­cord­ing to the Con­sumer Tech­nol­ogy As­so­ci­a­tion, whose mem­bers in­clude drone man­u­fac­tur­ers.

NASA is work­ing with in­dus­try and the FAA to cre­ate a new low-alti­tude air traf­fic con­trol sys­tem specif­i­cally for drones. In­dus­try and gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials say such a sys­tem will be needed if there are to even­tu­ally be wide­spread drone de­liv­er­ies by Ama­zon and other com­pa­nies.

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