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“Not only is the North American drone market already one of the leading regions for drone technology, but it also has incredible potential to develop even more.”
That’s the thesis of a fresh report from Drone Industry Insights, a German-based analytics firm. DII conducts a massive, annual survey of drone pilots, company leaders and other folks involved in the industry. This year’s survey was gathered based on data from 1,113 online survey respondents spanning 85 countries. And according to insights gleaned in its latest Drone Mark Report 2023, the North American drone market is set to grow.
Drone Industry Insights honed in on the three North American countries — Canada, Mexico and the U.S. — to understand the trajectory. And here are some key points of note:
- As far as continents go, North America is the second-largest drone market (behind Asia)
- The North American drone market is forecast to surpass $12.2 billion by 2030, according to another DII report
- 59% of North American drone companies have 10 employees or less (considered small companies)
- 19% of North American drone companies have between 11 and 50 employees (considered mid-size companies)
Why things are looking up for the North American drone industry in 2024
So why does it seem so likely that the North American drone market is on an upswing? Just look to DII’s “drone industry optimism” analysis. Whereas the industry average optimism score is just 6.6, the average among respondents specifically from North American is a far-higher 7.2.
What’s more, is that when DII gathered an optimism score from North American drone companies in 2022, it was just 6.3. This year’s 7.2 score represents nearly an entire point of increase.
There are a few key reasons for the rising optimism, but among the biggest is recent advancements in regulatory frameworks. Much of that has to do with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) more frequently doling out approvals for companies to conduct beyond line of sight (BVLOS) drone flights. That includes an October 2023 approval to SwissDrones. The approval allowed its aerial service provider, Phoenix Air Unmanned (PAU), to fly drones not just in specific areas, but across the entire United States. A month prior, two drone delivery companies, Zipline and UPS Flight Forward, got FAA approval to conduct package deliveries.
Additionally, the FAA has begun doling out what are called Production Certificates for drones. Those are basically a stamp of approval from the FAA that the manufacturers who hold such a certificate have demonstrated quality management and manufacturing capabilities needed to produce aircraft in that design. Matternet received the U.S.’s first-ever FAA Production Certificate in late 2022.
“These regulatory developments are crucial in fostering a conducive environment for drone technology growth and innovation,” according to DII’s report.
What the North American drone market looks like today
The North American drone market is pretty diverse in terms of offerings. There are companies that build drones or related components (like parachutes), but business ventures extend far beyond that. Here are the types of drone companies you can expect to find in North America, broken down by their share relative to other types of companies:
- Drone service providers (40%)
- Software companies (12%)
- Training and education providers (11%)
- Internal operations (9%)
- Hardware companies (6%)
- Makers of components and systems (5%)
- Engineering and integration (4%)
- Other (13%)
Most (40%) of the North American drone companies are drone service providers. That’s a pretty broad term, but in short it means that these companies will fly drones for you. That could entail everything from California-based Zipline, that conducts drone deliveries for clients including Walmart, Intermountain Healthcare and even Sweetgreen. Then it encompasses the smaller startups, like Aerotas, which uses drones to process data specific to land surveyors.
While DII broke out drone hardware companies (6%), makers of components and systems (5%) and engineering and integration (4%) as separate categories, it might be fair to group them all together. With that, you could infer that 15% of the drone industry in North America is focused on some sort of hardware. Most of today’s drone hardware companies made in America focus on enterprise and military applications. That includes makers like Skydio (based in California) and Teal (based in Utah).
Then there are the software companies that are robust, perhaps unsurprising given software hubs like Silicon Valley. There, major software companies include DroneDeploy, which makes mapping software. Other types of drone software includes drone simulators, such as the Zephyr Drone Simulator from Virginia-based Little Arms Studios.
But perhaps most standout is that 11% of North American drone companies are training and education providers. North America has a robust amount of training. Just look to all the organizations that offer training for GI Bill students, or the myriad Part 107 online test prep courses.
What challenges are ahead for the North American drone market?
Right now, the big priority and challenge for American drone companies center around marketing and sales. Sure, people are generally more open to drones than they were 10 years ago, when top concerns centered around drones spying on them or crashing on their heads. Yet even still, many people aren’t totally pro-drone.
Luckily, ongoing examples of ‘drones for good’, particularly in peoples’ everyday lives, are changing that. For example, more drone light shows have exposed the public to their beauty and power.
Survey respondents also cited ‘Staff Development’ as a top priority. That fits nicely with the fact that 11% of drone companies in North America are devoted to training and education.
And perhaps unsurprisingly is that, despite regulatory improvements inciting newfound optimism, it’s still also posing as the No. 1 challenge. Among those regulatory challenges include the rollout of Remote ID. That rollout was so fraught that the FAA extended the Remote ID enforcement date to March 2024. Still today, drone pilots criticize the fact that they’ve largely been forced to purchase expensive Remote ID modules or are often limited to flying in certain areas (FRIAs) that are few and far between.
But in general, it seems as though it’s now a good time to be a drone company in the U.S. There’s high demand for drones made in America. There’s also high demand for faster deliveries via drone, drones to clean their rooftop solar panels, drones to photograph their home as it goes on the market for sale, or perhaps even more drone light shows. Given that, it’s a good time to be a North American drone company.
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