FAA More Accurately Characterizes Drone Sightings, But More Analysis Needed

AMA is pleased to see the FAA more accurately characterize its recent drone data as ‘sightings’ and ‘reports’ rather than the more inflammatory terminology that was used last summer. When the agency previously released this data in August 2015, AMA completed a detailed analysis of these reports. We found a more complex picture of U.S. drone activity than the agency and news reports initially suggested. Only a small number of sightings were legitimately reported as ‘near misses,’ the most serious reports involved government-sponsored military drones and some reports appeared to involve people flying responsibly. Meanwhile, the FAA’s drone data last August contained reports of many things in the air that weren’t drones, including balloons, birds, model rockets, mini blimps, something that ‘resembled a dog’ and even a UFO.

An overall increase in the number of sightings of consumer drones is not surprising given FAA’s projections last fall of an influx of nearly a million new such devices by the end of 2015, and presumably many of these sightings constitute legitimate UAS activity. A more definitive analysis of the data is needed to separate out the lawful operations from those that pose a true safety concern.

AMA will closely review the latest dataset of drone sightings. It is critical that the data be carefully analyzed given the timely conversations on Capitol Hill about UAS policies. Meanwhile, AMA reiterates its call for the FAA to release not just preliminary reports, but also investigative findings and any other information associated with these reports. The problem with preliminary reports is just that – they are preliminary.

AMA is committed to working closely with the FAA and other stakeholders to promote model aircraft and consumer drone safety. To ensure that everyone flying model aircraft and consumer drones have access to basic safety guidelines, in 2014 AMA helped launch the Know Before You Fly campaign with our industry partners. In 2015, AMA teamed up with retailer Best Buy to display safety information on store shelves and store receipts of drone purchases. In addition, Best Buy is offering one-year AMA memberships for purchase. AMA’s decades of experience demonstrates that an education-focused and community-based approach is the best way to manage recreational flyers.


  1. The reality is that November 2015 sightings are up 338% over November 2014. December 2015 sightings were up 250% over December 2014, and January 2016 sightings are up 257% over January 2015. The rate of reports per month, after decreasing in the last third of 2015, are starting up again since January. Fifty percent of all sightings are in three states: California, Florida, and New York. Twenty-five percent of all sightings are in nine cities: New York, Los Angeles, Miami, San Diego, Chicago, Orlando, Seattle, Boston, and Atlanta. Perhaps its time for a focused effort in specific geographic areas?

  2. Bard Center for the Study of the Drone has completed a preliminary analysis showing:

    – “Generally, the patterns observed in the new reports match trends observed in reports of incidents from previous FAA data releases”

    – “Just over one third of all incidents were Close Encounters, i.e. incidents that present a level of potential hazard”

    – “The rate of reported incidents continues to be higher than in previous years. This period saw over three times as many incidents as the same period of the previous year”

    – “Three out of five incidents occurred within five miles of an airport, and nine out of ten incidents occurred above 400 feet”

    – “In 24 incidents, drones reportedly came within 50 feet of a manned aircraft. In 11 instances, aircraft made evasive maneuvers to avoid a drone.”

    – “Roughly one third of all reported Close Encounter incidents involved a multi engine jet aircraft.”


  3. And another tidbit: “Most incidents occurred above the FAA’s 400-foot ceiling for unmanned aircraft. Of the 470 incidents for which an altitude was reported, 38, or 8.1 percent of all incidents with a reported altitude, occurred at or below 400 feet, and 432 incidents, or 91.9 percent, occurred above 400 feet.”


  4. Do Consumer Drones Endanger the National Airspace? Evidence from Wildlife Strike Data – Eli Dourado, Samuel Hammond | Mar 14, 2016 | Mercatus Center | George Mason University



    “Our analysis has been based on actual bird strikes, not near misses or simple sightings. We find in general that small UAS under 2kg pose a negligible risk to the safety of the national airspace. We estimate that 6.12×10−6 collisions will cause damage to an aircraft for every 100,000 hours of 2kg UAS flight time. Or to put it another way, one damaging incident will occur no more than every 1.87 million years of 2kg UAS flight time. We further estimate that 6.12×10−8 collisions that cause an injury or fatality to passengers on board an aircraft will occur every 100,000 hours of 2kg UAS flight time, or once every 187 million years of operation. This appears to be an acceptable risk to the airspace.”

  5. Fantastic comments , I learned a lot from the points . Does someone know if my company might be able to grab a blank IRS 5498 document to complete ?

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