Project Management Institute

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Commercial Drones Are Flying into the Mainstream

Commercial drones are flying closer to a mainstream future. In October, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) named United Parcel Service (UPS) the first official drone airline. The certification follows the success of a pilot project the company launched in March, in which UPS used drones to fly more than 1,000 blood samples and pharmaceutical supplies across a hospital campus in North Carolina, USA, cutting down on the time needed to transport the sensitive materials. With its Part 135 Standard certification, the global logistics giant is now cleared to fly as many drones as it likes and will be able to more easily launch services in new locations.

“This is a turning point, and it's a historic moment because this is the first FAA-sanctioned use of a [drone] for routine revenue-generating flights,” Bala Ganesh, vice president of UPS’ advanced technology group, told The Associated Press.

UPS is hardly the only drone developer vying for more air space. Building off a century of technological advances in the military, commercial drones are now deployed for tasks as varied as project site surveys and burger deliveries.

Market Snapshot

US$129 billion

Estimated global market for commercial drones by 2025—a compound annual growth rate of 56.5% since 2019

1 million

Number of commercial drone units that will be sold by 2021

Largest
commercial drone markets in the world by 2024

1. United States

2. China

3. India

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Growth Curve

Year-over-year adoption rate for industries using commercial drones to collect aerial data

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PHOTO COURTESY OF UPS

Sponsor Perspective

Three executives take on the promise—and potential future—of commercial drone projects.

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“We have been using drones for real deliveries in China for over two years now and have seen the profound impact that the technology can have on people's lives around the country.”

—Jon Liao, chief strategy officer, JD.com, in a statement

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“Scale and infrastructure aside, we know customers will only feel comfortable receiving drone deliveries if the system is incredibly safe.”

—Jeff Wilke, CEO Worldwide Consumer, Amazon, in a keynote speech at re:MARS 2019

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“With drones, Africa is willing to take more bold steps more quickly because the benefits are there and the countries have been willing to move in a more agile manner around regulation.”

—Timothy Reuter, civil drones project head, World Economic Forum, to TechCrunch

Air Time

Though deeply rooted in the military, drone development projects pivoted toward recreational and commercial uses at the turn of the century.

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