How many real consumer drones, toys aside, exist in the USA as of Jan, 2016
Unless you are living under a rock, you’ve probably heard about the new (US) FAA requirement that all drones over a certain weight (250 grams – a bit more than 1/2 pound) need to be registered. Registration is easy and cheap and each pilot – NOT each drone – needs to register.
The FAA has announced 300,000 registrations as of mid-January 2016. This number then begs the question – how many drones are not yet registered? Or, more accurately, how many drone owners (pilots) who are actively using their machines have yet to register?
No truly accurate numbers exist – your guess is as good as mine…or that of the paid “experts”, so let’s have some fun and flush out the numbers.
Note – many of the numbers can be estimated by studying the statements of various manufacturers, Amazon.com sales, etc – put together with some other criteria, this may give us a glimpse of a moving target.
The commonly reported numbers often include toy drones. They also don’t take into account multiple drone ownership by a single individual or loss/crash/retirement of drones.
Without further ado, here is my guesses and the logic behind them….
To keep things simple we will start by counting DJI Drones – which we also can assume are 80% plus of the models in existence being flown. Therefore, we will take those numbers and multiply them by a factor of 1.25 in order to include the other players.
2013 – I am not going to count drones sold in 2013 for these reasons. Up until recently, the average life “in the wild” of most models was 12 months or less. They are crashed, lost or retired for a newer model. Most of those early buyers (Phantom 1, early Phantom 2, AR Drones, etc.) have moved on to the Phantom 3 models at this point. I am somewhat typical of this type of buyer – my Phantom 1 is on the shelf and I operate a Phantom 3 (along with an RC Logger Nova as a 2nd).
2014 – DJI has stated sales of approx. 500,000 drones in 2014 – of which they claim 30% were sold in the USA.
That’s 150,000 consumer drones
2015 – DJI projected one million worldwide drone sales – again with 30% of them in the USA. While I think they didn’t make the worldwide figure, let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and say 300,000 DJI models sold
2016 – we are only 3 weeks into the year, but drones are selling fairly well. Let’s guess on 30,000 USA sales by DJI in 2016 so far.
480,000 = total DJI consumer models sold in USA above
40,000 = fudge factor – assuming this many from 2013, etc. are still flown as primary models.
520,000 consumer drones
Multiply by 1.25 for other makers – Parrot, Yuneec, Blade, 3DR mostly…a few others at lower volume and recently some heavier RTF FPV models such as Walkera and Eachine 250 sized quadcopters.
=675,000 consumer drones
Now we have to calculate a few other adjustments. A reasonable percentage of 2014/2015 models have already been crashed, lost or given up on by their owners. Secondly, a number of customers own more than one unit – and since FAA only requires the owner to do one registration for multiple units, we need to allow for these.
A figure of -10% sounds fair….making our final grand total of:
Approx 600,000 owners in the USA who probably need to register
If that number is anywhere near close – and it should be based on public statements from DJI – then the FAA effort has been very successful in only a short time – having registered about 50% of those owners in approx. 45 days.
Notes on this number: Many sources will likely say this number is too low. There are some guesses floating around as high as one million or higher. I believe those numbers are not “real world” for many of the reasons given above. That said, the actual number is probably not much lower than my guess – so if a range were to be given, the range would likely start with 1/2 million and perhaps go as high as 3/4 of a million.
Summary of why other guesses may be too high:
1. Many come from media and PR numbers that have been repeated over and over – these numbers have no basis in actual mathematics or market study.
2. Many numbers do not sort out toys from larger drones
3. Even other educated guesses do not figure for crashes, losses, returns, loss of interest by buyer (put into the closet and never used) and other such grey areas.
4. Other guesses do not figure for multiple drone ownership per registrant.
Note – this article is a quick exercise in rules of thumb. The numbers may vary – but I put much more faith in the public statements of DJI – who had to be careful due to having raised Venture Capital – than I do in the completely wild and crazy numbers which have been released by the CTA (CES) and others taking stabs at the market. As mentioned before, the biggest problem always seems to be the grouping in of the toy sales with those of the true consumer models. If the other orgs which study the market would realize that one company had a vast percentage of the “need to register” and “GPS Camera/Stabilized” Quadcopter sales, their jobs might get a little easier. It’s a similar question as to whether sales numbers for smart phones should include the $29 “burners” as a real part of the market when calculating the potential for paid apps, etc.
A related article on drone guesses and metrics is at this link – let the pundity begin (or continue)…