The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) predicts 10,000 commercial drones could be in the skies by 2020 after guidelines are approved. For now, Congress has asked the FAA to write regulations on civil operation of small unmanned aircraft systems in the national airspace and submit them by 2015.
"Once enabled, commercial UAS markets will develop. There are many potential ways for a company to generate revenue from UAS applications, whether from new markets or more efficient applications in established markets. Based upon the expected regulatory environment, FAA predicts roughly 10,000 active commercial UASs in five years," states the FAA Aerospace Forecast for Fiscal Years 2012-2032.
Phil Finnegan, director of corporate analysis at the Teal Group, which monitors the aerospace industry says when rules are written, law enforcement will be first in line, followed by civilian applications. According to an FAA document, which references the Teal Group, it is estimated $94 billion will be spent over the course of 10 years for Unmanned Aircraft Systems.
As of now, the FAA has issued 1,428 licenses to police, universities, and federal agencies since 2007- a number far higher than previously known. Of these, 327 are still listed as active.