The Federal Aviation Administration’s annual Aerospace Forecast Report for Fiscal Years 2016-2036 predicts that the next two decades will see a sharp hike in overall air travel and the use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS, more commonly referred to as drones).
The report includes forecasts for commercial airlines, air cargo, private general aviation and fleets.
The FAA predicts that in the next four years alone, UAS purchases – typically made by hobbyists – will increase from 1.9 million to 4.3 million.
By the end of 2016, it is estimated that 600,000 drones will have been purchased for commercial use, the FAA predicts, and that by 2020, that number could grow to 2.7 million. The analysts predict the combined sales of all drones could be as much as 7 million by the end of 2020.
To predict commercial air travel statistics, FAA analysts used Revenue Passenger Miles (RPMs; they are equal to one revenue passenger traveling one mile). The report said RPMs for mainline and regional airlines are expected to increase on average 2.6 percent each year for the next two decades; international RPMs are forecasted to grow 3.5 percent annually (which means they would double by the end of the forecast period). Analysts predict domestic RPMs will see an increase in that period of more than 50 percent.
In an effort to keep up with and sustain the growth of the aviation industry, the FAA has implemented the NextGen program, which focuses on technology and procedures run using satellite-based navigation systems. This should effectively make obsolete the current ground-based radar navigation systems used by airlines and private pilots.
New technology in the aviation sector will lead to reduced fuel usage – which will ultimately have economic and environmental advantages and save airlines and pilots billions of dollars in operational costs.