We don’t TRUST the FAA’s drone numbers at all!

Yesterday, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released the latest drone numbers. The numbers caused a lengthy discussion on Facebook as many drone professionals wondered if you can the FAA's drone numbers, and what can be done to increase the number of TRUST completion certificates issued specifically.

The FAA's drone numbers

Here is the information that was released by the FAA:

Drones by the Numbers

A few decades ago, drones were confined to science fiction or notions of the future. Today, unmanned aircraft systems, or drones, are rapidly becoming a part of our everyday lives. They are quickly increasing in numbers and complexity. The ways we use drones range from recreation to commercial and military applications.

Here's a snapshot of the current state of drones in the :

  • 854,694 drones registered
  • 321,370 commercial drones registered
  • 529,820 recreational drones registered
  • 3,504 paper registrations
  • 269,030 Remote pilots certified
  • 220,891 TRUST completion certificates issued by test administrators

The FAA also provides a downloadable Excel sheet where the Remote Pilots and Recreational Fliers are broken down by state, city, and zip code, although that data is a little older.

Can we trust the FAA drone numbers?

The question is can we trust the FAA drone numbers? Well, on the Facebook group for commercial drone pilots this was a hotly debated topic.

There are a couple of things that stand out right away.

  • The total numbers of registered drones seems low.
  • Also, the number of registered commercial drones versus the number of recreational drones seems off, i.e. the number or registered recreational drones seems low.

The number of recreational drones that is reported by the FAA is almost certainly much lower than the actual number of drones that are flown purely recreationally in the United States.

Yesterday, The Federal Aviation Administration (Faa) Released The Latest Drone Numbers. The Numbers Caused A Lengthy Discussion On Facebook As Many Drone Professionals Wondered If You Can Trust The Faa's Drone Numbers.
FAA drone registration number applied to a drone. The free registration stickers are an initiative of the .

First off recreational drone pilots only have to get one FAA drone registration number regardless of how many drones they owned. So the 529,820 registered recreational drones reported by the FAA does not reflect the actual number of uncrewed aircraft in our country.

This will change once the Remote ID for Drones rule comes into effect. At that point even though Recreational Fliers will still only have one FAA drone registration number, they will need to “list the serial number of any Standard Remote ID unmanned aircraft.

However, the real reason that the FAA's registration number for recreational drones is off, is very likely because many hobbyist drone pilots either don't know they need to register their drone or they simply don't bother to do so.

While we don't have an actual number, in all likelihood there are millions of recreational drones in the United States.

Dave Messina from the FPV Freedom Coalition said the following:

“The last time recreational numbers versus commercial numbers were posted by the FAA was in the FAA Administrator's Fact Book in 2019. The numbers then were 1.2 million recreational drones and 300k commercial pilots. This is why I regularly state that there are easily an order of magnitude more recreational operators than commercial. The numbers you cited are of course, registered pilots. As you know, registration has not been successful, especially within the recreational community because it really does not provide a benefit. When comes into effect in September 2022 for Standard manufacturers and September 2023 for pilots, I expect to see a step up in registration as your registration number is required to register your Remote ID drone or Broadcast Module.”

Even Brendan Schulman who no longer works for DJI but still is an avid drone enthusiast said:

“FAA numbers look totally wrong to me, in terms of measuring the size of these communities or their actual fleets.”

Commercial drones and remote pilots

The numbers for the Part 107 certified Remote Pilots and registered commercial drones are believed to ve very accurate. This makes sense as anybody who wants to fly his or her drone commercially will need to have a Part 107 certificate and register each individual drone with the FAA in order to get insurance for their equipment and work.

This doesn't mean that there aren't people flying drones for commercial purposes without insurance and without a Part 107 certificate but still, these numbers reported by the FAA are believed to be very accurate.

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DJI's new commercial drone, the M30 or Matrice 30 at a media event in Elizabeth, NJ earlier this month.

TRUST completion certificates

This brings us to the last number, which is way lower than it should be, the 220,891 TRUST completion certificates issued by test administrators.

anybody who flies a drone recreationally is required to complete The Recreational UAS Safety Test (TRUST).

“All recreational flyers must pass an aeronautical knowledge and safety test and provide proof of test passage (the TRUST completion certificate) to the FAA or law enforcement upon request,” states the FAA website.

With the number of hobby drones estimated to be in the millions, and the ‘official' number of registered recreational drones being more than half a million, the TRUST number should be much higher.

Especially when you consider that many Part 107 certified Remote Pilots fly their drones recreationally as well and will likely have passed the TRUST test.

Yes, commercial drone pilots still need to complete TRUST if they want to fly their drone recreationally. Having a Part 107 certificate does not mean, you don't have to take the FAA's TRUST test. It should be really easy though for Part 107 pilots.

Vic Moss who works closely with the FAA said the following:

“It's very simple. A 107 holder does not have to have a TRUST cert if they plan on flying under 107.

If they want to fly outside 107 (like the example I used above), they need to have a TRUST.

I think every 107 should take it so they can talk intelligently about it to people who are new to drones and ask.”

Why are the FAA's TRUST numbers so low?

This brings us to the final question that was hotly debated on Facebook. Why are the TRUST numbers reported by the FAA so low? And, perhaps more importantly, what can be done to address this?

D. Williams offered one explanation on Facebook and said:

“I think that we have to continue to raise awareness to new pilots about the TRUST certification. Since it's not something the manufacturers don't put out, it's pretty much up to us if we wish to seek out and educate new pilots.”

This is correct. Drone makers are not required to promote the FAA's TRUST initiative. In reality, it is up to the FAA, the drone schools, and the media to educate drone fliers.

How about requiring retail stores or drone makers to put a sticker on each drone or a flyer in each box?

Most people suggested that this would be too much actual work and thus unlikely to be supported by either the retailer or drone manufacturer.

A Part 107 or TRUST number to activate your drone

Requiring a Part 107 or TRUST number to activate our drone might be an easier method as J. Brady suggested:

“Personally, for drones over certain specs, there should be a process to validate a 107 Cert# or a TRUST ID. Within the Drone activation process. If one isn't provided, the user should be required to take an app-based course to earn a TRUST ID. Corporations could be issued a corporate 107 Cert so long as their chief Drone operations leader possesses a valid 107. This allows for the purchase with the incentive to get TRUST or not be able to fly it.”

Again, Brendan Schulman had something interesting to say here:

“Sure. The federal government could have avoided alienating DJI, rather than dissuading it from becoming a and TRUST provider. If the politics had played out differently, the test could have become integrated into DJI products and you'd likely have 90% compliance among drone operators. Oh well!”

Indeed, if DJI would have been able to become a TRUST provider then incorporating the test into the DJI Fly and DJI Go 4 apps would have been easy and very effective.

TRUST Providers should do more?

Another solution that could be implemented immediately is to require the TRUST providers to do more to promote the FAA's TRUST test and boost the drone numbers.

Greg Reverdiau, who is a co-founder of the Pilot Institute suggested that:

“TRUST providers should have to provide a minimum number of certs to remain a provider. There is no FAA incentive at the moment for anyone on that list to be anything but a link on a website.”

The list below shows all the FAA Approved Test Administrators of TRUST:

The FAA could do more?

Lastly, one might wonder if the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is doing enough to promote TRUST and increase the drone numbers.

M. Williams suggested that the FAA should start a national campaign:

“Spend some advertising dollars on a national ad campaign. Worth it if you ask me…”

The FAA will have the FAA Symposium in April and I'm sure TRUST will be discussed there as well.

However, I agree with both Greg Reverdiau and M. Williams that the FAA could ask more of the TRUST Providers to promote the initiative, as well as, start a campaign to raise awareness among hobbyist drone pilots.

Can the drone community do more?

Of course, we, the drone community, can do more as well. When we meet other drone enthusiasts we can promote the TRUST program and advocate for safe and responsible drone flying.

I will be sure to do so when I meet and talk to drone pilots and hopefully this article will help as well.

Let us know in the comments below what you think about the FAA's TRUST program and what the FAA and we could do to keep promoting safe and responsible drone flying and to get those TRUST drone numbers up.

We're curious to hear our thoughts!

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Haye Kesteloo
Haye Kesteloo

Haye Kesteloo is the Editor in Chief and Founder of DroneXL.co, where he covers all drone-related news, DJI rumors and writes drone reviews, and EVXL.co, for all news related to electric vehicles. He is also a co-host of the PiXL Drone Show on YouTube and other podcast platforms. Haye can be reached at haye @ dronexl.co or @hayekesteloo.

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