On November 14, 2017, the Federal Aviation Administration publicly released a database of every drone registration up to October 31, 2017. This preliminary report is the first detailed analysis of the dataset.
Announced in December 2015, the drone registration rule required that all persons operating a drone weighing more than 250 grams for either hobbyist or non-hobbyist operations in U.S. airspace must fill out a simple registration form and pay a $5 fee. Users would be given a unique aircraft tail number to be affixed to their drone. Thousands of drone users quickly registered under the new rule. In July 2016, the FAA released a database with the location of the 464,158 drone users and drones that had been registered in the first six months of the program. In December 2016, one year after implementing the registration rule, the FAA announced that over 600,000 drone operators and drones had been registered. Today, the total number of registrations has swelled to 943,535. This includes 106,739 registered non-hobbyist drones and 836,796 registered hobbyists.
The registration dataset in this report is current up to October 31, 2017. It contains the country, state, city, zip code, and status (hobbyist or non-hobbyist) of every registered drone user and non-hobbyist drone. Non-hobbyist drone registrations also include the system type and registration timestamp. While hobbyist drone users are only required to register once regardless of how many drones they own, non-hobbyist users and entities must file a separate registration for every single drone they operate; as such, the total number of registered non-hobbyist drones in the database does not represent the total number of non-hobbyist drone users and entities. The database also includes 13,196 hobbyists and 933 non-hobbyist drones registered in 135 foreign countries who have presumably operated drones within the U.S. The database does not include any further identifying information, such as the street address,name of each registrant, or the intended use of the drone.
Though the database does not represent every single drone user in the U.S. (by some estimates, over 5 million drones have been sold in the country in recent years), the registration database offers an unparalleled insight into the geographic spread of people who operate drones in the U.S. In particular, it lends itself to a number of possible conclusions around the non-hobbyist drone sector. For example, drones made by the China-based manufacturer DJI make up over three-quarters of non-hobbyist drone registrations. The data also point to a number of curious anomalies. For example, there are 18 registered hobbyist users and 9 non-hobbyist drones in Doral, Florida (33122) even though, according to the 2010 U.S. Census, there is one resident that area. Similarly, in zip code 90095, home to the University of California, Los Angeles, there are three residents but six hobbyist users and eight non-hobby drones.