How drone “friendly” are the 50 US states? According to the Virginia-based Mercatus Center, which ranks each jurisdiction based on a cluster of factors – mostly relating to laws and regulations favoring drone flights – there is a wide variation. Some states you might assume rank high – like California, a perennial trend-setter in matters of lifestyle and culture, and uber-liberal New York, one of just a handful of federally-designated drone test sites, actually rank quite low, at #18 and #36 respectively.
In fact, the states that rank highest, like Oklahoma (#1), North Dakota (#2) and Minnesota (#5), tend to be relatively large rural states, often quite conservative-leaning, with vast unpopulated territories and farmland. The need for drones – for example, in aerial surveying – is relatively high, and with few large population centers, obstacles to unrestricted drone flying are relatively few.
So why does Arizona, the nation’s 14th most populous state, with large metropolises like Phoenix and Tucson and lots of medium-sized cities like Avondale and Scottsdale, still rank so high, at #6?
For one thing, the state, while larger than either Oklahoma or North Dakota, is no giant. It is far smaller than blockbusters like California or Texas, another state with a Mercatus ranking (#12) outside the top 10. It’s larger than Oklahoma, North Dakota and Minnesota, but only moderately so. Based on its geography and population size alone, one might expect Arizona to rank far lower on the Mercatus scale.
But Arizona has other characteristics that make it well suited to drone flying. One is the state’s relatively stable and moderate weather. Arizona is the second driest state in the nation and also one of the least windy. It also ranks in the bottom decile of states for annual snowfall. Wind and inclement weather conditions can heavily affect drone flying; they also affect a state’s appeal to drone investors and to government agencies looking for promising test sites. On this score, Arizona offers ideal weather conditions, some of the best in the nation, in fact.
A second factor is Arizona’s unheralded status as a leading technology center. While locales like Seattle, Silicon Valley and Boston continue to dominate the tech headlines, Arizona – and Tucson especially – has steadily ascended the ranks, establishing itself as a leader in self-driving cars, for example. The state’s also been ranked as one of the hottest areas nationwide for commercial real estate development. These two elements make Arizona highly appealing to outside investors and drone start-ups looking to set up new manufacturing and testing facilities. It helps, too, that the state provides generous tax breaks to these same companies and that aerial surveying of new estate is considered one of the drone industry’s fastest-growing niches. Even the best ground level photography can’t match the dazzling array of aerial views a drone can provide, in addition to showcasing a property’s setting. With 3D photogrammetry, drones can illustrate evolving weather and traffic patterns around a property of interest and other issues of concern to prospective buyers and investors.
Another sign of Arizona’s burgeoning drone appeal is the decision by Walmart to choose the Copper State as one of its 6 test sites for remote package delivery in conjunction with Drone Up. Drone Up said last May that deliveries would start deliveries in Arizona by the end of the summer – but they haven’t yet. Walmart and Drone Up plans to set up 34 different remote delivery sites nationwide, a large share in Arkansas, Walmart’s corporate headquarters, but Arizona is likely to be #2, industry sources say. Arizona already has laws on the books allowing drones to fly above state and local roads without a special permit and has established a state office to coordinate drone industry expansion, including workforce development – three of the most important indicators of “drone friendliness” identified by the Mercatus Center.