On November 14th, 2017, the Federal Aviation Administration publicly released a database with non-identifiable information of every drone registration up to October 31, 2017. Dan Gettinger and Arthur Holland Michel at the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College have published a preliminary but detailed analysis of the FAA registration information. They confirm some things that we already knew, such as DJI being the undisputed leader in the drone market as well as some surprising insights. The information released by the FAA shows registrations geographically for both hobbyist and non-hobbyist segments of the drone market.

DJI Inspire 2

Detailed analysis based on FAA data shows DJI is market leader

The FAA drone registration was announced in December 2015 and required that both hobbyist and non-hobbyist drone owners register their drones. In July of 2016, the FAA confirmed that 464,158 drone users and drones had been registered. As of October 2017 this number has grown to 943,535, including 106,739 non-hobbyist (or commercial) drones and 836,796 registered hobbyists. Hobbyist drone owners only need to register once regardless how many drones they own, whereas non-hobbyist drone owners need to register every individual drone they own. As a result, the total number of registered non-hobbyist drones in the database does not represent the total number of non-hobbyist drone users and entities. Even though the database does not show every single drone pilot in the U.S., it does give an unparalleled insight into the geographical spread of drones in the country.

Furthermore, the report provides the following key takeaways:

  • As of October 31, 2017, there are 836,796 hobbyist users and 106,739 non-hobbyist drones registered with the Federal Aviation Administration.
  • Non-hobbyist drone registrations have increased in 2017, while hobbyist user registrations have slowed.
  • States with low population densities are more likely to have high rates of non-hobbyist drone registrations.
  • The 30 most common non-hobbyist drones account for 88 percent of all non-hobbyist registered systems.
  • The most popular non-hobbyist drone is the DJI Phantom 4. Drones made by the China-based DJI account for at least 70 percent of all non-hobbyist drones.
  • The data contains registrations from users in 123 countries.

Drone registrations per location

The most registered non-hobbyist drones can be found in the following states: California, Texas, Florida, New York, North Carolina, Georgia, Colorado, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. Together these states represent 55 of all non-hobbyist drone registrations.

The ten states with the least registered non-hobbyist drones are Rhode Island, Vermont, Delaware, Wyoming, South Dakota, West Virginia, North Dakota, New Hampshire, Maine, and Alaska.

The states with the greatest number of registered non-hobbyist drones per capita are in descending order: Alaska (71 drones per 100,000 residents), Idaho (71 per 100,000), North Dakota(64 per 100,000), Colorado (61 per 100,000), and Montana (59 per 100,000). Together, these states’ account for 5.4 percent of all drones, even though they represent only three percent of the U.S. population.

Interestingly, Washington, D.C. has more than 98 non-hobbyist registered drones per 100,000 residents, while the city falls entirely within restricted airspace and without a special permission drone operations are prohibited.

DJI is the market leader in non-hobbyist drones

One thing that immediately stands out is that Chinese drone manufacturer DJI makes up over 75% of all non-hobbyist drone registrations, with the Phantom 4 being the most commonly used drone in that segment. According to the report:

The most common non-hobbyist drones are the DJI Phantom 4 and Phantom 3. There are at least 26,189 Phantom 4 drones and 16,944 Phantom 3 drones in the data. These two systems comprise 46 percent of the top 30 non-hobbyist drone registrations and 40 percent of all registered non-hobbyist drones. The data indicate that DJI has a rm lock on the non-recreational drone market. DJI drones account for 78 percent of the systems in the top 30 and at least 70 percent of all non-hobbyist drones.

Hobbyist drone registrations

The top five states with the largest number of registered hobbyist drone users are California, Texas, Florida, New York, and Pennsylvania. These states represent 38 percent of all registered hobbyist drone users.

The five states with the least number of registered hobbyist drone users are South Dakota, Delaware, North Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming.

The states with the largest number of registered hobbyist drone users per capita are in descending order: Hawaii, Alaska, Utah, Colorado, and Washington.

The states with the fewest are Mississippi, Louisiana, Kentucky, New Mexico, and Arkansas.

The growth of the number of hobbyist registrations has been slowly declining as a result of the uncertain legal status of the registration requirement for hobbyists after, on May 19, 2017,  the D.C. Court of Appeals struck down the Federal Aviation Administration’s rule requiring all hobbyist drone owners to register with the government, finding that the program violated the 2012 FAA Modernization and Reform Act, which bars the FAA from imposing any new regulations on model aircraft. However, it now seems that drone registration for hobbyists may be reinstated under the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

The report contains a lot more interesting data than we can show here in a single post and really is a must-read for anybody with a real interest in the drone industry. You can read or download the entire report here.

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