Drone watch: sales are, um, up!

The craze for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) is droning on, and we are starting to see it all: Drone racing leagues, trans-Tasman drone racing championships, drones mowing lawns, commercial aerial drones, drones fighting crime, and even drones wielding guns (and possibly committing crimes). Judging by the latest statistics, it's not going to go away either. Trade Me saw a large escalation of listings of Drones during January of 2016, increasing by 118 percent from ​2015.

The growing market for drones has become a major talking point for the past few years as more people begin to indulge in the possibilities that they offer. 

“The talking point is that there will be a million drones under people’s Christmas trees this year,” the Federal Aviation Association (FAA) assistant administrator of policy, international affairs and environment, Rich Swayze says.

Drone sales around the world have shot up over the past two years, according to the FAA. In 2015, sales reached 700,000, compared to the previous year's 500,000.

Interestingly, both figures are likely to have been surpassed during the month of December alone in 2015, giving a glimpse into how profitable the marketplace for drones is.

Trade Me spokesman Jeff Hunkin says in 2014, the drone market "saw searches for drones hit their apex just before Christmas 2014 where the total number of searches were up 500 percent on the previous year to just under 6,000. This means drones have continued to steadily increase in popularity over time as more members hunt them out on Trade Me."

Drone-related searches on Trade Me from March 2015 to February 2016

Consulting group Markets and Markets (M&M) have released a detailed analysis of the global drones market between 2015-2020. It estimates the market as of 2015 is $US10.1 billion. It's forecasted to reach $US14.9 billion by 2020.  

New Zealand has already witnessed the development of Flirty, the first Kiwi commercial aerial delivery service. It's also already home to Rotocross NZ and NZ Drone Racing League, two groups that run UAV racing leagues and championships across New Zealand. 

New Zealand Police have also recently joined in on the fun by trialing multiple drones with cameras for possible search missions.

Retailers such as PB Technologies and Noel Leeming have already begun the sale of a diverse number of UAV drones, while others have opted to sell more basic models.

Noel Leeming put drones among their top picks for what consumers would be buying the most of during the 2015 Christmas season.

Jeff Hunkin says over the past year, there's been a steady increase in the number of searches for drone-related items.

"Searches peaked around the turn of the new year for the week of January 1, 2016 (around 21,000 searches for drones and drone-related items), before settling back to its steady pace of the previous year. The previous peak that year was in July 2015, at around 15,000 searches," he says.

Although the drone market is experiencing a strong and steady trend of increased sales and popularity over the last few years, Hunkin believes that the market is still not fully developed and that the trend may settle down as the market becomes more established in the coming years.

"So in general, we’re seeing pretty steady interest in drones through the number of searches, and while the number of listings continues to tick up year on year, we may be seeing the initial explosion in interest and sales settle back as drones become more common, cheaper to buy, and easier to operate."