2023 State Drone Commerce Rankings

How prepared is your state for drone commerce?

Worldwide, commercial drone services are being tested and permitted. Progress in the United States has been slow, in part because of a lack of clarity about the federal and state roles in drone and airspace management. Now in its fourth year, we give scores to the 50 states and rank them using their laws and drone industry data that indicate their preparedness for commercial drones. By adopting laws that allow cities to lease the air rights above public roads, vesting property owners with air rights, and establishing avigation easements, states can facilitate future drone integration.

The 2023 Drone Scorecard Rankings

States scores are based on six factors that signal a state’s readiness for commercial drone services

The Importance of Drone Highways

Many states have laws that allow cities to lease the air rights above public roads, vest property owners with air rights, and establish avigation easements. With these laws, states can facilitate future commercial drone operations in low-altitude airspace while Congress and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) develop national drone policies. Creating a clear and coherent framework at the state and local level, such as a system of drone highways, will make parcel delivery faster, improve distribution of medical supplies, and create jobs in the technology and logistics sectors.

What States Can Do

State laws need to accommodate drone flights from large and small operators and clarify who—whether state, local, or federal officials—can make low-altitude airspace available. This report scores the existing laws and policies and ranks all 50 states and Puerto Rico. The report also identifies which states have laws and policies that show promise in creating drone highways and a statewide drone industry.

Read the full report

Factors for Ranking States' Drone Readiness

Six factors are used to score and rank the 50 states’ preparedness for commercial drone services. In 2023, Arkansas topped the ranking with a score of 90 out 100 possible points.


Airspace lease law
More than one-third of states currently allow state or local authorities to lease airspace above public roads and private property.


Avigation easement law
These laws allow drone flights as long as they are high enough to avoid being a noise nuisance to landowners and passersby. 


Task force or program office
States that have a drone program office within their department of transportation or a statewide task force will be ahead of the curve and can anticipate future issues 
before they become problems for operators and residents.


Law vesting landowners with air rights
These laws clarify property rights, thereby reducing litigation risk for drone operators and homeowners alike.


The term sandbox refers to a designated place to test new technologies under liberal rules for a predetermined duration. A drone sandbox allows early stagecompanies to show proof of concept to investors and regulators. 


Jobs estimate
The number of drone jobs in a state signals future growth in drone commerce.

About the Author

Brent Skorup is a senior research fellow at Mercatus. He also serves on the Texas Department of Transportation’s Connected and Autonomous Vehicle Task Force, and previously served on the Texas Urban Air Mobility Advisory Committee and as a drone law advisor to the Virginia Department of Aviation.

The White House, the FCC, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, and a dissenting opinion at the Illinois Supreme Court have cited his research. In addition to economics and law journal publication, he has authored pieces for National Affairs, Reuters, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Wired, Air Traffic Management magazine, Regulation magazine, and elsewhere. He’s appeared as a guest for news outlets like C-SPAN, NPR, CBS News, ABC News, and CNBC Asia.

Contact Brent