Predictions for the drone industry vary greatly. The consulting firm Deloitte predicts that total revenue from nonmilitary drones in 2015 will be between $200 million and $400 million — equivalent to the price of a single midsize passenger jet. Longer-term forecasts are more optimistic, estimating commercial drones could become a billion-dollar industry by the 2020s.
Yet Snow said the restriction on flying drones beyond the visual line of sight means ambitious projects like Google’s Project Wing and Amazon’s Prime Air likely won’t dominate the market. At least not anytime soon. “As much as people want it to be, it’s just headlines,” he said.
Based on the types of initiatives that have already been granted exemptions, drones used for film, video and photography will likely lead the way. Already, these projects account for nearly half of all FAA approvals so far. But higher margins in engineering, surveying and agriculture could lead these industries to slowly come to the forefront.