Ever heard of DJI drones? No? Well 70% of the American drone market has. Founded in 2006 by Chinese entrepreneur Frank Wang, DJI generated nearly $500 million in revenue in 2014, up from $130 million in the year before.
Through competitive pricing, great features and superior ease of use Chinese drone maker SZ DJI Technology Co Ltd has created an early lead in the U.S. commercial drone market as businesses turn to its cheap, light-weight flying platforms for a variety of business uses, notably from shooting films, mapping and site inspections.
Sixty-one of the 129 companies that received FAA approval to use unmanned aerial vehicles are using DJI drones, far ahead of its nearest competitor. Over 350 other companies, more than half of the 695 businesses pending approval, have applied to use DJI drones.
Shenzhen-based DJI, whose top-selling Phantom 2 Vision+ drone sells for around $1,200 in the United States, estimates that it already has about 70 percent of the commercial market worldwide and a much larger portion of the consumer market.
This is a major low to America's aerospace industry whose technology in manned aerial vehicles is world leading. Cumbersome regulations by the FAA, specifically policies that banned commercial use while the rest of the world moved ahead are to blame.
Currently the U.S. market is being held back by FAA policy that restricts commercial drone flights to line-of-sight operations at altitudes of 500 feet (152 meters) or less. These rules are slowing efforts by e-commerce giants Amazon.com and Google Inc to develop high-tech drones capable of delivering packages over long distances.
Until the FAA does a radical policy shift its unlikely large U.S. aerospace companies will invest significantly in commercial drones, putting American industry at a competitive disadvantage for years to come.