Alaska Trends

It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a… wait, what exactly is that?

No, it’s not Superman. And sorry to disappoint, but it’s not a UFO either.

We’re talking drones. Or for the purists: unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Alaskans may have noticed an uptick in the little hovercrafts that just seem to be everywhere (including some places they probably shouldn’t be), and for good reason.

Outside of personal use, there are a variety of applications for the devices from surveying to surveillance, farming to photography. And in the not-so-distant future—even delivery.

The Department of Transportation classifies drone users into three different categories:

  • A recreational user is anyone who uses a drone solely for recreation. Anyone who flies a drone for monetary or business purposes is not a recreational user.
  • Federal, State, or Tribal government entities, including schools and universities, that use unmanned aircraft system/drone technology are considered public operators.
  • A person or company using unmanned aircraft system/drone technology for compensation or business purposes is considered to be a commercial operator. This includes any person or company using a drone in any way to advertise, promote, or demonstrate a product or service, even if the product or service itself does not include a drone.

Indeed, drones are on the rise. But just how fast might surprise you.

It’s estimated that nearly 1 in 10 Americans own a drone and 15 percent of the population have flown one. Further, the Federal Aviation Administration predicts that by 2023, the number of commercial drones in operation will triple: 835,000. And by the same year, experts are expecting there to be 350,000 licensed drone pilots.

But there’s still rules! This month’s installment of Alaska Trends is here to keep you in the know and out of trouble.

Sources: DOT&PF, UAF, FAA, and ACUASI
of Americans own at least one drone.
of Americans have flown a drone according to a 2020 survey of over 1000 participants.
clipart of man holding a drone and a remote control
1,563,263 UAS
The FAA predicted there would be around 452,000 commercial UAS in use by 2022, but that number was reached in March of 2020.

As of March 10, 441,709 commercial and 1,117,900 recreational UAS had been registured, totaling 1,563,263 registured UAS in the US.

clipart of man and kid flying drones
Experts claim that 350,000 UAS pilots will be registered by 2023.
clipart of someone flying a drone
clipart of drone filming someone catching a rugby ball
Recreational vs. Commercial
People assume that a commercial flight is done for financial compensation. Compensation or the lack of it is not what determines if the flight is recreational or commercial. Non-recreational purposes include things like taking photos to help sell a property or service, roof inspections, or taking pictures of a high school football game for the school’s website.

Goodwill or other non-monetary value is also be considered compensation. This would include things like a volunteer using their drone on behalf of a nonprofit. Recreational flight is simply flying for fun or personal enjoyment.

Know the Difference
Drone: Most commonly used term to refer to any unmanned aerial vehicle.
UAV: Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) is an aircraft that can fly autonomously or remotely.
UAS: An Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) is the totality of everything that makes a UAV work including its GPS module, ground control module, transmission systems, camera, all the software, and the person on the ground controlling the drone.
Commercial Applications
UAS are now applicable to a multitude of sectors including media, real estate, disaster response, mining, maritime, education, construction, tourism, utilities, agriculture, meteorology, aviation, and logistics.
clipart of drone with a first aid kit
UAF Leads
24 of the world’s leading research institutions, and 100+ leading industry/government partners including the Alaska Center for UAS Intergration and the University of Alaska Fairbanks, make up The Alliance for System Safety of UAS Research Excellence (ASSURE). ASSURE members lead 3 FAA UAS test sites, 4 FAA research centers, 7 airfields, and a fleet of 340 UAS.
red clipart of three drones
The demand for UAS over 55 lbs. is expected to surpass the number of active GA (General Aviation) aircrafts in less than 15 years.
Millions and Billions
Every year that UAS integration into the National Air Space (NAS) is unavailable, the US loses more than $10 billion of potential economic impact.
clipart of a flying bag of money with a top hat
Tripling the Market
The FAA now expects there to be 835,000 commercial UAS by 2023, tripling the market in five years.
clipart of a fish
UAS and Salmon
UAS may not be used in any activity related to commercial salmon fishing in Alaska.
UAF, the North Dakota DOT, and the Kansas DOT have conducted UAS flights beyond the pilot’s visual line of sight to inspect pipelines and powerlines.
clipart of three different eyes with helicopter blades
Alaska’s Constitution guarantees Alaskans the right to privacy. Article 1, Section 22 states, “The right of the people to privacy is recognized and shall not be infringed. The legislature shall implement this section.” The UAS Legislative Task Force reviews these protections particularly as they relate to unmanned aircraft systems as it pertains to the specific act of intrusion into another’s privacy, the prevention of intrusion into one’s own privacy, and/or the act of exposing elements of one’s privacy against an individual’s will. This concept is recognized as “the right to be left alone.”