Last week, the Federal Aviation Administration published a complete location database of drone registrations as part of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. The Federal Aviation Administration’s registration data contains 38,975 records for the United States for a total of 459,384 drones. This follows an announcement by FAA Administrator Huerta in early February that registrations for unmanned aircraft officially outnumbered those for manned aircraft.

At AirMap we processed the data and created heat maps as a visualization of registration density for both recreational and commercial drones.



Not surprisingly, the maps can be compared to population density maps, and tend to show that drone registrations have taken place in populated areas. This is important information, as this data stands in contrast to past assumptions about where and how drones will be utilized.

Let’s look at some of the thinking about drones.

Earlier this year, the FAA published its annual Aerospace Forecast, predicting that the most popular markets for sUAS operations would be the following:

  1. Industrial Inspection
  2. Real Estate/Aerial Photography
  3. Agriculture
  4. Insurance
  5. Government

At the same time, the Center for the Study of the Drone (CSD) published an analysis of the FAA’s database from 2014 to 2015 for Section 333 Exemptions by commercial drone operators. The report found that the most popular categories for intended operations are:

  1. Photo/Film
  2. Real Estate
  3. Construction
  4. Utilities/Energy/Infrastructure
  5. Agriculture

The study noted that Agriculture proved to be a less common application for commercial drones than anticipated in forecasts. Also, the study noted sustained and consistent growth in Emergency Services as an intended application for commercial drones.

If the growth categories for intended commercial drone operations are Construction, Utilities/Energy/Infrastructure, and Emergency Services, then it follows that drone registration data would be concentrated in highly populated areas. With Part 107 removing the requirement for a Section 333 Exemption for commercial drone operations, we can expect to see more drone operating in these populated areas.

One look at AirMap shows that substantial portions of populated areas exist in controlled airspace. That means that an effective infrastructure for low-altitude airspace management is absolutely critical for the future of UAS operations.

In fact, in proposed Part 107.41, operations in controlled airspace are prohibited unless the operator has “prior authorization from the ATC facility having jurisdiction over that airspace.”

Knowing that drones are located mostly where people are, and knowing that substantial portions of populated areas are within controlled airspace, helps us project a potential problem — the FAA is going to need a solution to manage ATC authorization in controlled airspace.

Just consider how difficult it will be for a UAS operator looking to conduct an inspection or engage in real estate photography in Los Angeles. The dark green areas depicted below are the most populated areas, and the red overlays depict controlled airspace below 500 feet.


Similar challenges will present themselves for operators looking to fly in controlled airspace in Miami under Part 107.41…

San Antonio

…and San Antonio.

San Antonio (Zoomed)

Tens of thousands of operators will be looking to fly in controlled airspace after Part 107 is finalized. The FAA is going to need an automated solution to deal with thousands of requests for authorization to fly in these areas. At AirMap, we know how to build these types of solutions. We built D-NAS to solve the challenge of providing notice to airports (as required by Section 336 of FMRA), and we believe the challenge of requesting ATC authorization can be similarly solved with technology.

Learn more about what AirMap is building here.

Learn more about D-NAS here, and join our growing network of partners.