What’s the Most Popular Drone in the U.S.? New FAA Data Answers This Question and More
BY Zacc Dukowitz29 November 2017
The FAA recently made public all of their records on drone registrations up to October 31, 2017.
Bard’s Center for the Study of the Drone did an excellent analysis of the data the FAA released, and we’ll share some of their key findings below.
Some key insights off the bat:
- In terms of sheer numbers registered, DJI’s Phantom 4 and Phantom 3 are the top drones in the U.S. for commercial work.
- States with low population densities, like Alaska and Montana, have the highest per capita rates of FAA-certified drone pilots and of drones being used for commercial (i.e., non-hobbyist) work.
- There are a surprising number of international drone hobbyists who have registered their drones with the FAA—over 13,000 hobbyist drones are recorded as registered by people living outside the U.S.
Commercial / Non-Hobbyist Insights
The FAA released data on 106,739 commercial / non-hobbyist drones. Here is what the data reveals.
The Top Commercial Drones in the U.S.
As if we needed further evidence, the FAA’s data on the types of commercial drones registered in the U.S. is yet another demonstration of how strong DJI’s position is in the drone industry.
DJI drones account for 78% of the commercial drones in the top 30, and at least 70% of all commercial drones overall.
After DJI, Intel is the second drone manufacturer on the list with 4,800 of their Shooting Start 2 drones registered. Since the Shooting Star is not yet for sale to the public, it appears that Intel is the most likely source for all of these registrations, which would make them the largest single owner of registered drones in the U.S.
Similarly to Intel, there are some other drones that appear on the list above that were registered in big batches, and are not for sale to the public. Check out the two drones in the right hand column whose manufacturers are ‘Unknown’—the Hamilton2 and the R1. There are 329 R1s registered in Redwood City, CA and 426 Hamilton2s registered in Menlo Park, which indicates that they might be either prototypes, or used for internal demonstrations at companies located in those two cities.
A surprising entry on the list of the top 30 is 3D Robotics’ Solo, coming in as the 3rd manufacturer listed with 3,269 drones registered.
3DR’s play to compete head-to-head with DJI failed last year but since then they’ve seen some major successes by pivoting to focus on their Site Scan platform. It could be that the number of Solos registered has more to do with the success of Site Scan than with the Solo itself—DJI recently partnered with 3DR to allow Site Scan to run on the Phantom 4, which could mean that we’ll see fewer Solos registered this time next year.
Here is the data on commercial drone manufacturers visualized in a pie chart (driving home yet again DJI’s dominance), as well as some data points on the types of commercial drones being registered.
Clearly, the quadcopter is king.
Regarding categories, it’s interesting to see that commercial and prosumer drones are edging up in the ranks, and combined are almost equal to the number of consumer drones on the list. We imagine prosumer and commercial drones will overtake the consumer category within the next few years, given how many types of commercial applications, and specific drones to do them, have been springing up lately.
Density of Registrations
While you might think that more urban areas would have more drones registered for commercial work, the data shows that per capita the five states with the greatest number of non-hobbyist drones are states with lots of wide open spaces: Alaska, Idaho, North Dakota, Colorado, and Montana.
States with a low population density appear to have more non-hobbyist drones per capita than densely populated states.
Bard’s study doesn’t provide an analysis about why there are more commercial drones in these states, but it seems like it could be related to drone pilots feeling like there will less competition in less densely populated states, and also because there tend to be less regulations in large, rural areas than there are in densely populated urban centers.
Another reason could simply be that there’s more work for drone pilots in states with lots of wide open spaces. Surveying pipelines or doing aerial services work in agriculture come to mind, along with other industrial use cases, like mining.
Here is the data on where commercial drones are registered:
Not too surprisingly, states with a high number of commercial drones also had a high number of FAA-certified drone pilots per capita (the number of non-hobbyist drones per certified pilot was found to be about 1.7), and states with a low number of non-hobbyist drones per capita had a correspondingly low number of FAA-certified drone pilots.
The FAA released data on 836,796 hobbyist drone users, and we’ll look at what the data reveals in just a moment. Before diving into the hobbyist data, it’s important to note two things:
- Since the FAA only requires hobbyists to register themselves as users, we don’t have data on the types of drones hobbyists are buying, but only on their locations.
- Following the Taylor court decision in May of this year, in which an appeals court in D.C. found that the FAA did not have the authority to regulate “model aircraft,” there has been a noticeable decline in hobbyists registering themselves as drone users, so there we can reasonably assume there are more hobbyists out there than reflected in the data.
Although the legal battle isn’t over, and the FAA may eventually be given the authority to require hobbyists to register their drones through further litigation or new legislation, at the moment the reality is that fewer hobbyists are registering their drones. This means that there are more hobbyists out there that are not registering themselves as drone owners than their were previously, and so there we can reasonably assume that a corresponding data gap has arisen since May of this year.
International Hobbyist Drone Registrations
One interesting data point revealed in the FAA’s database is the number of hobbyist drone owners located abroad.
The data reveals that there are 13,196 hobbyists registered in 123 countries and territories outside the U.S. Those non-U.S. countries with the most most registered hobbyists are Canada (2,253), Germany (1,860), the U.K. (963), China (796), and Japan (752).
Density of Registrations
You might expect commercial drone registrations and hobbyist drone user registrations to parallel each other, but it turns out that they don’t.
The five states with the greatest number of hobbyist drone users per capita are Hawaii, Alaska, Utah, Colorado, and Washington—only Alaska and Colorado overlap with the top five states for commercial drones.
It would be great to see the data on what kinds of drones those hobbyists are flying—we can only wonder if there might be surprises in there, given the price gap between high quality cheap drones and more expensive, high end consumer drones. And what about FPV racing drones?
Oh well. For now, we’ll just have to be satisfied with the data we have.
Want more drone industry data? Check out our article on research showing where drone service providers are finding work.