In the mid-2010’s, it seemed as though everyone had — or at least, wanted — a drone. Major brands like GoPro built their own drones (GoPro’s Karma has been since discontinued), and you could find them at retailers ranging from the Apple Store to Costco. Even Barbie had a drone. But 2019 growth is a different story.
Today, there are more than 1.1 million drone pilots in America who own a combined 1.7 million drones, according to August 2020 Federal Aviation Administration data. And 1.1 million of the 1.7 million registered drones belong to recreational drone pilots.
That’s a lot of drones for the still-quite-nascent drone industry (the first DJI Phantom was released in 2013). But here’s a sobering figure for the consumer drone industry: 2019 growth is slow.
In 2019, the consumer drone fleet grew by just 6%, according to a new report titled “Historical Performance of the American UAS Industry” released today by insights and research firm Drone Analyst. That’s a decrease from 2018’s 14% growth figure.
That little amount of 2019 growth is mirrored by data collected and analyzed by other organizations, too. A 2020 survey from Philly by Air found that while 8% of Americans households own a drone, that’s the exact same figure that Pew came to in a 2017 study of drone ownership data, suggesting that little to no new households are getting into the drone game.
What’s more, the size of the consumer drone fleet came in under FAA forecasts.
“The consumer market has severely underperformed against FAA
expectations,” according to the Drone Analyst report. “This is despite prices continually decreasing for quality hardware.”
And yes, DJI drones are cheaper than ever. The original DJI Phantom was listed in 2013 for $849, though it didn’t come with a camera. Most users mounted a GoPro Hero3 to that drone, which came with a carrying case designed to fly the action camera through the air. The Hero3 at the time ranged from $200 to $400, depending on the model, putting the total cost of the original DJI flying camera at more than $1,000.
It’s tough to say why consumer growth is slow despite drones being cheaper, more accessible, and easier to fly than ever. But one can speculate: some pilots have expressed confusion over where they can and can’t fly (and drones are banned in many places where you may want to fly, such as National Parks), back-and-forth registration requirements and potential over testing requirements. Plus, there just aren’t that many options when it comes to buying drones, as DJI has a more than 70% market share while other once-promising drone makers like 3D Robotics, GoPro and Lily have all crashed.
But it’s not all bad news. The commercial drone fleet grew by 39% from 2018 to 2019, according to the Drone Analyst report, which Head of Research David Benowitz says is “relatively high,” suggesting that the drone industry certainly isn’t shrinking — it’s just that the consumer market is struggling to grow.
That, too, is largely unsurprising. 2019 saw record levels of venture capital investment into drones. More than $1.2 billion was invested in the drone industry across 157 investment deals, with big money going to delivery company Zipline which has recently been conducting coronavirus-related medical deliveries, human-carrying drone company Joby Aviation, and flight software company PrecisionHawk. And LAANC authorizations —which are a good indicator of commercial drone operations as they’re required for commercial pilots who want automatic approval to fly in certain controlled airspace — are also at record highs.