drones in 2024

The state of drones in 2024: How many drones are registered in the U.S., and how many pilots are certified?

How many drones are out there flying in the U.S.? How many commercial drone pilots are certified? As the first quarter has just wrapped up, here’s a look at the state of drones in 2024. And we know it’s April 1 — but just know these stats are no joke.

For starters, the number of registered drones alone is nearly 800,000. That means — very likely — there are well over a million drones out there in the U.S., considering not all drones need to be registered. And that doesn’t even consider the toy drones you can buy for, say, $30 at your local Target, Costco or Walmart, or online through Amazon. Those almost certainly aren’t registered. After all, only drones weighing 250 grams or more, or that are flown for commercial purposes, need to be registered.

Here’s a deeper dive into the latest U.S. drone statistics, which the Federal Aviation Administration released on December 31, 2023.

Registered drones in 2024 in the U.S.

As of the end of December 2023, there were a staggering 790,918 drones registered with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). That’s more than the entire population of San Francisco.

Though there are slightly more registered recreational pilots vs commercial drones registered, it’s actually a pretty even split. As of Dec. 31, 2023, 416,095 recreational drone pilots had registered. Meanwhile, 369,528 commercial drones had been registered.

That’s based on FAA data around pilots flying under the Exception for Limited Recreational Operations (which is how hobbyist pilots can legally fly) or Part 107 (which is how commercial pilots can legally fly).

Recreational drones in 2024: 416,095 pilots have registered

Though 416,095 pilots have registered with the FAA as of the end of 2023, there are likely far more than 416,095 recreational drones capable of flying in U.S. skies. Here are two reasons why:

  1. For starters, know that the Exception for Limited Recreational Operations covers all drones in that pilot’s inventory. That means that, while 416,095 people have registered as recreational drone pilots, they might have more than one drone. If every recreational drone pilot owned, say, two drones, then that means there are actually more than 832,000 recreational drones out there.
  2. And then, as stated above, only drones that weigh 250 grams or more (or that are flown for commercial purposes) must be registered. And there are surprisingly many high-quality camera drones that weigh less than 250 grams, including the DJI Mini 3 Pro and the Autel Evo Nano drone.

Commercial drones in 2024: 369,528 registered drones

It used to be that, like recreational drone piloting, commercial pilots would register once and then use that same number to affix on all the drones in their fleet. That changed with the implementation of Remote ID.

Since September 16, 2023, Part 107 drone pilots have generally been expected to fly in a Remote ID-compliant manner. In the case of Part 107 flights, the FAA requires that commercial drone pilots must each individual Remote ID device module separately within their inventory and each device will get a unique registration number.

Many drones have built-in Remote ID modules. Though, some pilots use separate Remote ID broadcast modules. That means, rather than scribbling the same registration number on all your drones as hobby pilots do, commercial pilots need a separate number for each drone (if it has a built-in Remote ID module) or individual Remote ID module.

But here’s where the data gets interesting. That 369,528 figure looks at commercial drones registered as of Dec. 31, 2023. But while Remote ID technically went into effect on Sept. 16, 2023, the FAA didn’t begin enforcing Remote ID rules until March 16, 2024.

That very likely means that drone pilots hadn’t registered their entirely fleets individually before Dec. 31. But now that we’re past March 16, it’s very likely that 369,528 will go way up, given that commercial operators will now have to register each aircraft in their fleet individually.

What about paper registrations?

And no, that doesn’t add up to 790,918. That’s because the remaining 5,295 registrations are actually paper registrations.

The FAA requires the paper (N-number) registration process if:

  • Your unmanned aircraft is 55 pounds or greater.
  • You want to qualify a small unmanned aircraft for operation outside the United States.
  • You hold title to an aircraft in trust.
  • The small unmanned aircraft owner uses a voting trust to meet U.S. Citizenship requirements.

You can create a paper registration through the FAA’s aircraft registration website.

How to register drones with the FAA

If you’re a drone pilot whose drones don’t contribute to the stats above, you’re likely unregistered. Registration is easy and it’s not too expensive — assuming you don’t have a giant fleet of drones.

FAA drone registration requirements

The FAA registration requirements are pretty straightforward. You must be:

  • 13 years of age or older (if the owner is less than 13 years of age, a person 13 years of age or older must register the drone)
  • A U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident.
  • For foreign operators, FAA will consider the certificate issued to be a recognition of ownership rather than a certificate of U.S. aircraft registration.

FAA drone registration fees

The fee might be a big contributing factor in why there are so many more drones flying out there than what the FAA has accounted for.

If you’re flying under the Exception for Limited Recreational Operations, you’ll owe a registration fee of $5. It covers all drones in your inventory and is valid for three years, upon which you must renew.

If you’re flying under Part 107, you’ll owe a registration fee of $5 per drone. Again, it’s valid for three years, upon which you must renew. $5 per drone might not seem to be of a deal until you consider something like light show drones. A single light show typically has at least 100 drones, but even 500 is relatively common. That would entail $500 in registration fees alone for the 100-drone show, or $2,500 for the 500-drone show.

How to register your drone

A screenshot of the FAADroneZone website where you can select to ‘Launch Drone Owners and Pilots Dashboard.’

Whether registering as a recreational or professional pilot, all drone pilots need to visit the official FAADroneZone website to register. From there, click on the button labeled “Launch Drone Owners and Pilots Dashboard” and follow the steps to register from there. (The steps are slightly different whether you visit the Recreational Flyer Dashboard versus the Part 107 Dashboard).

You’ll likely need to click “Add Device” if you’re registering for the first time. When you do that, you’ll be prompted to enter details about your drone such as the manufacturer, model and serial number.

Don’t register at any other website. Any other website purporting to help you register your drone is very likely a scam.

Registered pilots in the U.S.

Those are the figures for registered drones, but what about actual pilots?

While 369,528 commercial drones are registered, 368,604 pilots are certified. By those figures, there would be 1.003 commercial drones for every one certified commercial drone.

And while 416,095 recreational drones are registered, 667,165 TRUST Certificates have been issued. The FAA issues TRUST Certificates to recreational flyers via a free online course. All recreational drone operators flying drones that weigh between 0.55 lbs and 55 lbs (250 grams and 24 kilograms) must take the TRUST (The Recreational UAS Safety Test). TRUST entails a simple, online course that takes about 30 minutes to an hour to complete. Most providers have a test at the end of the hour training, which allows for unlimited attempts to pass.

Interestingly, by those metrics, there are just 0.624 drones out there for every certified TRUST pilot. How can that be? Surely people don’t take TRUST without actually owning a drone.

There are a few possible explanations. For starters, some drone pilots might register as a Part 107 pilot and have taken the TRUST test. I certainly did. (I passed the Part 107 test within the first couple months of it becoming available. Then I passed the TRUST test on the first day it was offered — all in the name of reporting research!).

Secondly, many pilots might have taken the TRUST test, but not actually have registered their drone. While TRUST is free, registering costs $5. Because enforcement standards around registration have been fairly vague, some drone pilots might not feel the need to be compliant, despite it being the law.

Recreational vs. commercial drone pilots

What does seem to make sense is the ratio of recreational vs. commercial drone pilots. For every one certified commercial drone pilot, there are 1.81 hobby pilots.

It makes sense that 667,165 people would have passed the simple TRUST online course, while just 368,604 pilots are Part 107 certified. Getting your drone pilot’s license under Part 107 is a much tougher process, which requires an in-person, written exam. And common sense alone likely won’t get you a passing score. Most people enroll in an online Part 107 course, which can also cost many hundreds of dollars on its own.

If you’re reading this, you’re very-likely already certified. Carrying that card around in your wallet indicating you passed is a badge of honor. The question is: have you registered your drone yet? It’s the law, so we sure hope you did.

One Comment

  • teckelhutacres says:

    I registered my drone but don’t plan to get a part 107. My drone is 249g, But I was told by the FAA that my drone had to be registered so I did. I only fly it for recreational purposes.

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