How Many Drone Pilots are There?


Ever since drones, also known as unmanned aircraft systems or UAS, entered the market in the past decade, this field has steadily been increasing. Hobbyists, photographers, and different industries have adopted the use of drones for various purposes. It’s growing fast, and it looks like it’s set to continue increasing exponentially over the decade ahead. But how many drone pilots are there currently?

In the US alone, there are about a total of 867,344 drones registered, but this number does not cover drones that are not required to be registered. The number of remote pilots certified by the FAA is 244,568. Certified remote pilots means those who have a license to pilot drones for commercial use.

The truth is that it can be difficult to give an exact number as to how many drone pilots are there, given that there are drones that are not required to be registered and because recreational pilots are not required to have certification. That said, even though the numbers are not complete, they are still very much staggering. And don’t forget that the drone market is still growing as we speak.

How many drone pilots are there?

One of the rising industries in the world today is the drone market. That’s because drones are not only quite fun to use, but it also turns out, are very useful for a lot of purposes, especially for commercial applications. 

For those who just simply want to have fun and use drones for recreational purposes, they are great for taking aerial photos of landscapes, and for taking videos of different activities such as sports. Even RC enthusiasts and hobbyists can’t get enough of drones. And don’t forget about drone racing, which has become a big-time professional sport already.

However, drones are also growing in commercial applications because they can be used by a wide variety of different industries. That’s why there are many businesses that are using drones piloted by people who are certified to fly drones for commercial purposes. After all, for you to be able to fly drones for commercial purposes, you need to be certified by the FAA to do so.

So it’s a big thing, but, exactly how many drone pilots are there if the drone industry is continuing to grow as we speak?

The only number that we can pin down definitively is the number of certified remote pilots. Certified remote pilots are drone pilots that have earned their certification from the FAA in order to fly drones for commercial purposes and not merely for recreational purposes. 

That means that those who have passed the certification exam (also called Part 107) should be able to move past the usual limits of recreational flying and use drones for professional and commercial purposes such as for business or for any similar purpose.

» MORE: What Can You Do with a Part 107 License?

As of summer 2021, there are 244,568 remote pilots that have been certified by the FAA. That means that all of those 244,568 certified remote pilots have completed the licensing process and can use drones for commercial purposes and not merely recreational reasons.

When it comes to recreational drone pilots, it really is difficult to tell how many there are because recreational drone pilots are not required to pass an exam or really even be registered in any official way. So the number could be anywhere above 244,568 and could even exceed a million, especially when you look at the number of drones that are registered with the FAA.

How many drones are registered with the FAA?

One of the things that you need to know if you own a drone is that you are required to register it with the FAA if the drone is at least 0.55 lbs (250 grams) in weight. The reason for registration is to trace the owner of the drone in case something happens regarding it. Of course, drones that are under 250 grams are not required to be registered.

However, when it comes to figuring out how many drone pilots are there, it can be interesting to note that the number of drones registered with the FAA can give us a good insight into how many people own drones that can be used for both commercial and for recreational purposes.

As of now, there are a total of 867,344 drones that are registered with the FAA. That means that there is a possibility of a 1:1 ratio between drone pilots and drones registered with the FAA. But there are some things that you need to look at first before coming to the conclusion that there are also 867,344 drone pilots around.

First off, the number of drones registered only reflects drones that are required to be registered. As such, this does not include smaller drones and toy drones that are under 250 grams in weight. 

And you may be surprised to know that there are quite a few drone owners who fly lighter drones such as the DJI Mini line, which is 249 grams light and is not required to be registered. There are also younger people who own toy drones that are just as light or even lighter than the DJI Mini.

Given that there are drones that are not required to be registered, there could be more drone pilots than the numbers would show as some people prefer to own drones that don’t need to be registered with the FAA. This makes it even more difficult to truly know how many drone pilots there are.

Second, you should also consider that there are drone pilots who own multiple drones. As such, it really isn’t a 1:1 ratio in terms of drones registered and drone pilots around. For example, there are 344,995 commercial drones that are registered but there are only 244,568 certified remote pilots around. That means that some of those certified remote pilots own multiple drones.

As such, in the total number of drones registered, there is a good chance that a lot of those drones are owned only by one person. That means that there is a chance that there are drone pilots that are fewer than the number of drones registered.

So, when you factor in that there are many unregistered drones out there, and the fact that many pilots own more than one drone,  it really is tough to say exactly how many drone pilots are there. 

Because of the popularity of mini or small drones, there could easily be more than a million drone pilots. But because some drone pilots do own multiple drones that are registered, that number could be much lower as well. As such, there could be anywhere near 867,344 drone pilots in the country when you consider all of the factors mentioned above.

Are there more recreational pilots or commercial pilots?

Throughout this discussion, we have been differentiating drones that can be used for different purposes. The main difference is recreational vs commercial purposes for drones. And each of those types of uses for drones has its own specific requirements in terms of piloting.

Recreational drone pilots are those who simply fly drones that are meant for recreational purposes, as a hobby. These are the drone pilots who fly their drones for fun and for leisure such as when they simply want to take photos of a landscape or when they want to take videos of themselves surfing out in the open water.

On the other hand, commercial drone pilots are those who are certified to use their drones for money-making purposes or for commercial use. Of course, they need to pass the Part 107 exam to become certified remote pilots who can use their drones for a wide variety of commercial purposes.

All that said, are there more recreational pilots than commercial pilots? When we look at the numbers, we can definitely say there are more recreational drone pilots than there are commercial drone pilots.

Among the 867,344 registered drones, 344,995 of those are drones used for commercial purposes while 518,805 are dedicated to recreational use. That means that there are many more recreational drones than commercial drones, and we can easily infer that there are more recreational drone pilots out there. 

Of course, it’s easy to understand why recreational drones outnumber commercial drones in terms of the number of pilots around. For one thing, it’s easier to become a recreational drone pilot because all you need to do is to buy your drone and then register it. You don’t even need to register it if the drone is under 250 grams. And recreational drones are much more affordable than the bigger and more powerful drones that are generally used for commercial purposes.

Meanwhile, being a commercial drone pilot is more of an investment as you need to make sure that you are getting your money’s worth out of the expensive drone that you purchased to become a certified remote pilot. On top of that, you also need to invest some time and money in your certification. As such, being a commercial drone pilot is more difficult, which explains why there are more recreational drone pilots out there.

» MORE: How to Become a Commercial Drone Pilot

What are the growing fields for commercial drone pilots?

While it might be true that there are more recreational drone pilots than commercial drone pilots, certified remote pilots have the advantage because they are the only ones who can use their drones for profit. Of course, there are plenty of growing fields that these commercial drone pilots can take advantage of. These include:

  1. Mapping and modeling

A drone can be useful for mapping and modeling certain landscapes and places because of the fact that they can take photos and videos from a bird’s eye view. This allows us to have precise and detailed maps and 3D models of places. 

  1. Thermal imaging

Drones can be mounted with thermal imaging cameras. Thermal imaging is useful for a lot of different purposes including emergencies (fires) and roof inspections.

  1. Real estate

If you work in real estate, you can use your commercial drone pilot certification to get detailed images of houses and properties from the sky. Of course, the more detailed the property looks, the better the chances of selling it.

  1. Movies and television

Commercial drones can be used for movies and television series because of the fact that these drones can take shots from angles that are quite difficult for conventional cameramen.

  1. Inspections

Finally, commercial drone pilots have also found careers in flying drones for inspections of certain assets and terrain. These inspections can be used for different types of data analysis.

» MORE: Are Drone Jobs in Demand?

» MORE: How to Find Work as a Commercial Drone Pilot

Elizabeth Ciobanu

Editor-in-Chief. Elizabeth is a full-time (homeschooling!) mom of four, and serial entrepreneur in a variety of enterprises, one of which is producing content for Droneblog. If free time existed, she would love to spend more time on hobbies such as flying a drone.

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