Is the hobby drone market shrinking?

Is the hobby drone market shrinking? By some metrics, it is. The hobby drone market — meaning recreational drones used not for business, but rather for fun reasons like personal photography, FPV flying or racing — has shown some signs of contracting this year.

The 2022 global drone market is worth an estimated $30.6 billion, according to analysis from the Drone Market Report 2022 from Drone Industry Insights (DII), a Germany-based research firm. The report includes a market forecast based on the drone industry’s Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR). And while the CAGR on the commercial side of things is set to expand at a rate of 8.3% through 2030, the overall drone market is set to expand by a lesser 7.8%, based on DII’s forecasting model. That means the hobby side of things is dragging down the overall average CAGR.

Drone makers are leaning into enterprise drones, such as DJI’s Mavic 3 Enterprise, to hedge against the hobby drone market shrinking.

That could spell bad news for businesses who rely on hobby drone pilots as their primary source of income. Many drone businesses have acknowledged this, and are pivoting or leaning into enterprise operations as their primary income source. Most notably is DJI, which rose to fame with its DJI Phantom drone, which primarily targeted photographers. These days, many DJI products are enterprise focused, such as its recently-launched, DJI Mavic 3 Enterprise essentially takes the shell and many of the internal parts of the existing Mavic 3 and gives it commercial-grade features such as a 56× zoom camera, an RTK module for centimeter-level precision, and even an optional thermal camera. California-based dronemaker has operated similarly, by giving its action sports photography-focused Skydio 2 drone a makeover fit for enterprise operations, too. The enhanced Skydio X2 began shipping in spring 2021 and added features like dual color/thermal sensors that were designed specifically for defense, public sector and enterprise customers.

The problem with the hobby drone market shrinking

Perhaps more concerning about forecasts of the hobby drone market shrinking is that it also might not bode well for long-term growth on the commercial side. That’s because, according to the DroneAnalyst 2020 Drone Market Sector Report, nearly half of enterprise drone programs were founded simply out of “an individual’s interest in drones as a hobby.” Having a strong pipeline of drone hobbyists within a company is often the catalyst for companies to use drones in their work, the data indicates.

More specifically, 46.5% of drone programs were founded by someone who initially had interest in drones as a hobbyist. 21.8% of programs began organically without a formal budget, and almost exactly in line with that, the first drone used was paid for out of the employee’s own pocket, indicating that the employee likely a consumer-grade drone and brought it in to the company as a proof of concept. From there, more use cases grew.

Luckily, it’s not all bad news. The drone market as a whole is still set to grow. When looking at the combined commercial and recreational sides, the drone market will be worth $55.8 billion by the year 2030, based on DII’s forecasts. Here’s a look at Drone Industry Insight’s full forecasts for drone market growth between now and 2030:

A deeper dive into that data, and more figures like it, is available in DII’s Drone Market Report 2022, which was released last month and breaks down figures based on 17 industry verticals, the top 10 country markets, as well as other differences based on region, unit sales, country and more.

While the forecasts do indicate that hobby drone market shrinking, there is hope for folks who want to see the recreational side continue to grow. For starters, there are plenty of things could change to disrupt those models. For example, the newly-launched DJI Avata drone has potentially to spark additional interest in first-person view drone flying. Since that drone is fairly new (it was released in August 2022), its impact was not accounted for in DII’s report.

And for what it’s worth, the drone industry isn’t giving up on hobby drones entirely. Drone makers like DJI still continue to invest in building new products for the hobby drone community. Earlier this year, DJI released its DJI Mini 3 Pro, which many consumers and prosumers consider to be the best camera drone yet.

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