The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Part 107 Certification, also known as Remote Pilot Certification, enables drone pilots to fly low-risk, commercial flights in the United States. Recently, Bill McNeil, a contributing editor and writer at Directions Magazine, conducted a study using the FAA’s data on Part 107 certificate holders. By analyzing where Part 107 certificate holders are located throughout the U.S., we’re able to uncover some interesting trends about where the largest and most active sectors of America’s drone industry are located.
One product of McNeil’s study is a collection of choropleth maps, which use symbols, coloring, and shading to show the average and actual number of certified drone pilots in an area. These maps can be used to better understand drone usage in the U.S. For example, areas with more Part 107 certificate holders are likely to have higher levels of commercial drone adoption, while areas with fewer certificate holders may be facing barriers to the take up of commercial drone use.
U.S. FAA Part 107 Certificate Holders by State
The goal of the study conducted by McNeil was to uncover trends, patterns, and distributions of certified drone pilots in the continental U.S.
Figure 1 illustrates the number of Part 107 certified drone pilots by state throughout the continental U.S. Certified pilots are not evenly distributed throughout the U.S. — they are clustered along the west and east coastlines. Reasons for this uneven distribution are still being uncovered as part of McNeil’s preliminary study, but we can make a few inferences. In addition to larger population sizes, higher numbers could be contributed to the more established drone regulations, adoption of commercial drone use in the area’s work force, and space to fly. The certification process and the permissibility of commercial drone use is clearer and easier to implement in states with established drone policies and regulations. Additionally, pilots in coastal and rural areas may have fewer air space restrictions, such as No Fly Zones prevalent in congested and urban areas.
Pacific States FAA Part 107 Certificate Holders
The Pacific states are areas of interest, particularly California since it holds the largest number of drone pilots compared to any other U.S. state. Some factors that may contribute to the comparatively large number of certified drone pilots in California are (1) the presence of clear policies and drone laws, and (2) the prevalence of industries actively adopting drone use as part of their processes. First, California drone laws provide guidance on the requirements for flying a drone and can be found in our guide to drone laws. Second, the popularity of industries in which drone use is increasing, such as filmmaking, agriculture, and construction, could also be contributing to the high number of certified drone pilots in the state.
Figure 2 shows the number of certificate holders in the Pacific states by county. Of all the counties in the both the Pacific region and the whole U.S., Los Angeles County in California has the most Part 107 certificate holders. Again, this could be attributed to the prevalence of the filmmaking industry in Los Angeles where drone use is growing. Figure 3 provides an alternate view of the counties — zip codes boundaries appear on the base map in green, and color-coded spheres geocoded by county centroid are used to indicate the amount of certificate holders in each county.
U.S. FAA Part 107 Certificate Holders by County
These maps have already revealed an interesting story about drone use, but we’ve got a bit more to cover! The last set of data we’re going to analyze from McNeil’s preliminary study is the division of Part 107 certificate holders by county. In Figure 4 you will find the distribution of Part 107 certificate holders by county for the continental U.S.
The counties with the most Part 107 certificate holders are primarily located in Florida, California, Arizona, Texas, Washington, Illinois, and North Carolina.
Theses counties range from about 500 to about 2,200 certificate holders, as seen in Table 1.
It’s also interesting that the top counties are spread throughout the U.S. rather than concentrated in one area. Cook County in Illinois seems to be an outlier at first glance. However, Illinois has been a trailblazer in the use of drones for law enforcement. In 2015, Illinois State Police were granted permission to use drones in emergencies. In 2018, the Illinois Senate approved a plan that would allow police to monitor large crowds with drones. Another possible explanation for the large number of certificate holders in Cook County is that the county is home to the largest forest preserve district in the United States with drone-friendly flying fields — the Forest Preserves of Cook County.
The use of drones in the U.S. is an area for further study. There is a need for more studies about the distribution of drone pilots in the U.S. Such studies could reveal connections between the number of drone pilots, state laws, and job industries by state.
Become a Certified Commercial Drone Pilot
To become a certified commercial drone pilot, you’ll need to pass the FAA Aeronautical Knowledge Test as part of your Part 107 certification.
Our flagship training course, Drone Pilot Ground School (DPGS), is an online FAA Part 107 test prep course for commercial drone pilots looking to pass the FAA Aeronautical Knowledge Test for a Remote Pilot Certificate. We’ve helped more than 11,000 students get their FAA Remote Pilot Certificate—from solo drone operators and small teams to police and fire departments and enterprise organizations. You can learn more about their FAA Part 107 test prep course here.