State of the Drone Market: North America

Continuing with its coverage of regional and national drone markets across the world, Drone Industry Insights has decided to open with new year with a glimpse (and they do insist that you view the below as just a glimpse and not a comprehensive representative of the whole market) at the market in North America.

The North American drone market is one of the two biggest in the world, but – in our myopic view – what sets it apart is its penchant to phase out some drone manufacturers from prescribed markets, for reasons that range from data privacy to national security.

It is really interesting times we are living in for the development of the commercial drone in North America; and we cannot wait to see what happens next.

The original article can be found here.

In the first article of our country series for 2024, we turn our attention to the New World.

The North American drone market is the second biggest global region for drone technology behind Asia; although it is only made up of three countries: Canada, Mexico, and the United States of America.

Recent headlines about drones in North America feature drones used for archaeology in Alberta, Canada, drones providing news footage of Acapulco, Mexico in the aftermath of Hurricane Otis, and drones carrying out search-and-rescue after a landslide in Alaska; or putting on drone shows in Texas (among others) to celebrate the New Year.

So let us dig deeper into one of the most fascinating and dynamic regional drone markets.

Opportunity for Drones in North America

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.

All three countries rank in the top fifteen globally in terms of country size and real GDP. Furthermore, two are in the top 10 in terms of population size (USA and Mexico), and two are in the Top Five in terms of country size (Canada and the USA).

This means that whether it is providing services to people or carrying out operations in remote or hard-to-reach areas, there is a lot that drones will be able to do more efficiently than any other alternative.

The potential for the use of drones in North America is not only vast given the size of the region and the power of its economies. This potential is also distinctly aligned with the unique landscapes and specific needs of the United States, Mexico, and Canada.

Each country’s distinct geographical and societal features provide unique chances for drone technology to address specific national challenges and opportunities, especially given the developed infrastructures, industry assets and staff shortages in various industries where drones could make an impact.

For example, in the United States, drones are set to revolutionize urban management and emergency response, especially in densely populated areas where 83.3 percent of the population resides, addressing disaster management and logistics challenges.

Mexico, with its extensive agricultural land covering 54.9 percent of its territory, presents a prime opportunity for drones to enhance agricultural efficiency and precision farming, significantly impacting its predominant farming sector.

Canada, characterized by its vast forests covering 34.1 percent of the land and the world’s longest coastline, offers unique applications for drones in environmental monitoring, forest management, and maritime surveillance, particularly in its remote and arctic regions.

With all of this considered, it is no surprise that the North American drone market is forecast to surpass US$12.2 billion by 2030.

To gain a more proper understanding of its composition, let us now have a glimpse into the work that drone companies in North America carry out.

North American Drone Market Composition

Much like in other developed economies, there is a very high number of small drone companies in North America, with 59 percent having ten employees or less and a further nineteen percent employing up to 50 people. This means that almost 80 percent of the North American drone market is composed of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

Although drone companies in North America are mostly drone service providers (DSPs), the share of DSPs in this infographic (40 percent) might seem low in comparison to the global drone industry (made up of 80 percent of DSPs). But the current figure breaks down DSPs into further categories such as the eleven percent that provide Training & Education services and the four percent that do Engineering & Integration among others.

Either way, North America has a wide range of companies beyond the drone service providers, which include the twelve percent that focus on Drone Software and the nine percent that use drones internally (BIS).One important note regarding BIS is that there are in fact substantially more of these types of companies in the North American drone market, but this data is based on the results of the 2023 survey, which had limited outreach towards these types of companies.

It is also worth noting that almost ten percent focus on either Components & Systems Manufacturing or Engineering and Integrating them into existing drone hardware. So, a total of fifteen percent of the drone industry in North America is focused on some sort of hardware, whether it be building a drone itself, its components, or integrating the two.

In a nutshell: the North American drone market features a very healthy and diverse mixture of services, hardware, and software, not to mention a high level of education (including university programs/degrees focused on drone technology) as well as companies that use drones themselves rather than offering them as services.

The “Other” category in the infographic includes resellers/distributors, media platforms, researchers, and companies that carry on various activities.

Only about half of the drone companies are members of an association. Specifically, respondents expressed some scepticism about the value of drone association memberships, citing a lack of meaningful representation or direct benefits relative to the costs involved.

Many highlighted organisational priorities and financial constraints as key factors in their decision-making, with start-ups and educational institutions focusing on immediate business needs or sector-specific associations instead.

Additionally, a significant number of responses indicated a lack of awareness about drone associations or their relevance to the respondents’ specific geographic areas or industry sectors.

Priorities and Challenges for Drone Companies in North America

The main priority is firmly determined to be Marketing & Sales, followed by Staff Development.

As in many other parts of the world, this prioritisation makes sense given that product development (both hardware and software) has reached a very advanced stage.

Many companies are now easily able to develop adequate products that can be put into the market, and it is now a matter of finding the right strategies to market and sell those very products.

Moreover, the second priority shows that it is now imperative to have employees equipped with adequate knowledge within this niche industry. Whether it be building durable drone hardware, developing sophisticated drone software, highlighting the right USP (unique selling point), or anything else that a drone company might need, the issue of hiring and developing the right staff has risen in importance and will continue to do so in the coming years.

(Note: Software Development and Finances & Funding both ranked third, which is why there is no official third place priority listed in the infographic for the region).

Based on input directly from drone companies, the top challenges for drones in North America are 1) Regulation, 2) Public Acceptance, and 3) Domestic Politics (slightly beating out fourth-place inflation).

When asked directly for comments, respondents highlighted several critical challenges that drone companies in North America are currently facing. Key among these is navigating a complex regulatory landscape, with evolving FAA regulations and international constraints being a significant concern.

Drone companies in North America also emphasized the struggle with market perception and the need for enhanced client education, particularly in understanding the sophisticated data drones provide. The prevalence of unqualified drone service providers is reportedly affecting the market’s reputation and safety standards.

Operational challenges such as supply chain disruptions and fierce competition with larger, more established players were also noted as significant hurdles within the North American drone market.

North American Drones: A Vision for Tomorrow’s Skies

The North American drone market is experiencing a significant upswing in optimism, evident from the increase in confidence levels from 6.3 in 2022 to 7.2 in 2023.

This optimism not only outstrips the global average of 6.6 but also highlights the region’s progress and potential in the drone industry. Alongside this growing confidence, there have been notable advancements in regulatory frameworks.

These regulatory developments are crucial in fostering a conducive environment for drone technology growth and innovation. This dual progress in both market sentiment and regulation underscores the region’s commitment to harnessing the transformative power of drone technology.

As we look towards the future, the North American drone market stands as a beacon of innovation and progress. The blend of soaring optimism and regulatory efforts positions the region not just as a market leader but also as a visionary in the global drone landscape.

The journey ahead is filled with possibilities, from revolutionising urban management to enhancing agricultural efficiency and environmental monitoring. As the skies above North America buzz with the potential of drone technology, it’s clear that this region is not just navigating confidently through the present but is also shaping the future of drone applications.

The story of commercial drones in North America is one of ambition, adaptability, and a forward-looking perspective, promising a sky filled with innovation and inspiration.

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