A drone flying in a city near a skyline at dusk.

Why aren’t drones for commercial purposes mainstream? 


Some consider drones a nuisance, while others fly them recreationally. Most of us agree they have great potential, especially in the commercial space, but have you wondered why the solutions we have access to are limited and why such cutting-edge technology is still not mainstream? Where are the drones for commercial purposes?

It’s helpful to take a brief history trip first.  

A brief history of drones

Drone technology has evolved significantly in a short period of time. Before the early 2000s, the only drone usage was by the military. The military has been using them, in one form or another, for 150 years. It’s hard to imagine but the first “drone” use was by the Austrian Navy in 1849, when they used two hundred incendiary balloons in an effort to capture Venice. 

Over time and through different wars, the world has seen incredible advances in drone capability. Today, precision air strikes can pinpoint an enemy from miles away, causing no collateral damage all from a single drone.

2006 was the first year the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) issued commercial drone permits. An agricultural company, Advanced Aviation Solutions, was the first company to use drones for commercial purposes like crop sourcing. For the next eight years or so, the FAA issued an average of two permits per year, but in 2013 interest spiked. 

Amazon made a big announcement.

Amazon’s Drone Announcement Advanced The Industry

Amazon announced that they were looking into using drones for deliveries. This announcement is widely seen as the catalyst for the general public to start having an interest in drone tech and what it can do. Over the next few years we saw the number of permits the FAA issued explode to 1000 in 2015, 3100 in 2016, and today there are over 318,000 commercial drones registered with the FAA.

While the early commercial and recreational drones were cumbersome to fly, over the years technology has dramatically advanced to where most consumers can successfully fly a drone shortly after first removing it from the box. With that being said, this ease of use came at a cost. Many new regulations and laws have been put in place. Laws determine how consumers and companies can use drones, and define which drones for commercial purposes and recreational use, are required to be registered with the FAA. Laws also determine how high you can fly and in some cases, where you are allowed or not allowed to fly. Using a drone near an airport, for example, requires special clearance from licensed drone operators.

When looking at the commercial use cases for drones, most drones in use today aren’t being used significantly differently than what Advanced Aviation Solutions did with that first FAA permit.  Drones in use today are being used for inspections, monitoring, surveying, and Aerial Mapping.

Now that laws are becoming more clear, drone tech is about to take off. (pun intended)

What is BVLOS?

The first step in realizing the full potential of consumer drone services is clear regulation. That’s why many operators are exciting to see the FAA complete a report and offer clarity on guidelines. Many are looking at this report as the first real progress toward working out the official regulations. In it, new useage guidelines emerged for commercial operations titled Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS).  

BVLOS defines a few things for operators, including:

  • Defining acceptable levels of risk
  • Establishing clear levels of autonomy and associated human responsibilities
  • Special Licensing for BVLOS Operations
  • Creating a certification pathway for drone operators to be certified for BVLOS

These guidelines from the FAA aren’t the final rules that will govern BVLOS, but they will open up the ability for engineers to design drones to safely operate beyond where the pilot can see it and for autonomous flight without a pilot.

Whether you are a Real Estate agent making a video to help showcase a property, or a construction company getting an aerial view of a potential or current build site, drones are helpful in many ways. Drones today help businesses operate faster and safer in ways they couldn’t before. I expect that over the next 5 years we will all be seeing many more drones in the skies above you.

Chris Moeller of 3 Tree Tech
Chris Moeller

Chris Moeller is a 5G and IoT researcher at 3 Tree Tech. If you want to integrate IoT technology into your tech or need mobility infrastructure help, he’s willing to lend you his big brain. Reach out!

Photo by Goh Rhy Yan on Unsplash

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