Updated Analysis of FAA Drone Data Shows Decline in UAS Sightings

AMA today released an analysis of the FAA’s latest drone sightings that were made public in March 2016. This follows an analysis we previously released in September 2015 on the FAA’s first dataset of drone reports.

We’re happy to share that our latest analysis shows a month-by-month decline in UAS sightings since peaking in August 2015, despite an influx of nearly 700,000 to one million new devices sold last year. We believe at least part of this decline is due to efforts to educate newcomers to the hobby, primarily through the Know Before You Fly campaign, which AMA co-founded in 2014.

Some of these sightings contain reports of several objects other than drones. Balloons, birds, a rocket – and even a jet pack! – make the list of sightings included in the reports. As we found in our first analysis, the FAA’s drone data continues to be a “catch all” for any object spotted in the sky. And once again, consistent with AMA’s prior findings, only 3.3 percent of the drone reports in the FAA’s latest dataset contained explicit notations indicating near misses or close calls.

Also in line with prior findings, many of the sightings included in the dataset may involve people flying responsibly and within current guidelines. In the March 2016 data, AMA identified 38 sightings in which drones were reported to be flying at or below 400 feet.

By educating the broader drone community, we ensure that every day more and more people – many new to the world of UAS – are getting the information they need to fly safely and responsibly. The Know Before You Fly campaign, for example, has received more than half a million unique visitors to its website since its launch. We’re very proud of this campaign, and AMA’s other educational programming, and remain committed to these critical education efforts.

Education is also the best way to prevent new, burdensome regulations on our members. AMA members were never part of the problem, but we all stand to lose when careless and reckless operators spur calls for broad restrictions on recreational flying. Conversely, the decline in the number of UAS sightings shows that the focus on education is working, and will help our efforts to protect the rights of our members.

Thank you for your continued support of AMA. As you read through the full report, please feel free to contact us with any questions.


  1. All this is about is trying to show you the AMA actually is doing something so you renew. No thanks not good enough.

    1. Thank you AMA, I appreciate all you are doing. Keep at it, you are saving our hobby.

    2. More smoke and mirrors from the AMA who is trying to dig themselves out of the hole
      that they dug for themselves. This so called ” report ” is meaningless and will have no affect as to the regulations that the government will impose.

      Sorry the train has left the station.

    3. Agreed! The report shows very little if anything.
      Drones seem to be totally misunderstood and in my local club they are actually prohibited! Older members seem to fear them. The drones we normally see are very small and benign,however the old timers have no problem with monster jets and gasoline powered planes that I could almost fit into! If you get hit with one of those, it is game over!

      It would be interesting to get some stats on how drones are handled in each club.

      1. Gosh Lou! I’m 87 years old and I fly quadcopters as well as convential RC aircraft and a couple helicopters. Just how old are your “old timers”? 110?

    4. Just curious John, what exactly would make you happy. WHAT SHOULD THE AMA BE DOING TO MAKE YOU FEEL THEY ARE REALLY TRYING? I don`t think they can make the FAA just go away.But I would like that a lot. They will NEVER be able to make everyone happy but if we show support maybe the FAA will give up, or give in.

      1. Mr. Hayes, it is to go here, but this is just another example of why we need people in power who believe in Limited Government. Regardless of your political views, this is really the root cause. The AMA only reacts after those have been elected and are in power. Additionally, the AMA did not look at resisting the FAA, they instead attempted to be the sanctioned as the chosen body to regulate and therefore drive membership via regulation. Unfortunately, when organizations like the AMA try and take some of the power away from a beauracy like the FAA, they will lose. I think the frustration of members like myself, comes from the AMA ignorance of politics and it’s attempt to self serve its own interest instead of their members.

    5. Bunch of crap. The AMA has no clout. The FAA is the head and the AMA is the tail that wags.Better nt to print BS and get something done.

  2. I do operational data analysis for a living, and I think it’s unwise to make such grandiose pronouncements right now. While I understand and indeed support what AMA hopes to achieve by making such an announcement, my fear is that it doesn’t take much knowledge to show the flaws in this “analysis.” I found three major problems with it easily, others will too.

    First, the data runs from late winter of 2014 through the first month of 2016 only. Secondly, one doesn’t have to dig very deep to see that for the three calendar months where there is data from multiple years, the reported sightings are up considerably year over year. In November 2014 there were 21 reports, while in the same month in 2015 there were 92 (a 338% increase); in December 2014 there were 22 reports, while in December 2015 there were 77 (a 250% increase); and in January 2015 there were 26 reports, while in January 2016 there were 93 (a 257% increase). Thirdly, while the “analysis” states that the reported sightings are going down, this fails to account for environmental factors that may be the driver. Nationally, many more people are flying drones in the summer than are in the winter. In fact, if one looks the FAA data from a high population fair weather state like Florida, there is a mathematical trend upward over time. So a conclusion that reports are dropping is likely premature, for we have not seen a second summer’s worth of data to allow for a meaningful comparison.

    Lastly, the report seemed to rely heavily on whether or not specific words were present in what is obviously a freeform text field completed by air traffic controllers who are simultaneously engaged in controlling full scale aircraft. One doesn’t have to look at very many of the entries to see that there’s little consistency in how events are recorded, making “analysis” unreliable and conclusions drawn from such “analysis” weak at best.

    Unfortunately, now that this is out, we must be prepared for the possibility that the next FAA data release will show a summer 2016 vs summer 2015 trend matching the winter trends detailed above. If that proves to be true, then the organization’s credibility will undoubtedly suffer, and news organizations and legislators will be much less willing to listen.

    I would rather we have waited until we had two full years of data before making such a definitive public statement.

    1. I think you nailed it with making “analysis” unreliable and conclusions drawn from such “analysis” weak at best. Of course, you need to tell the Press that, who’ll talk about everything in this report as if it were a near miss by an “drone”¹ pilot (because that’s news), which will then be used by various people to justify further regulating our hobby.

      This will response – while equally specious – will at least provide some press to counter the bad press the FAA report is going to generate.

      Yeah, it’s all silly and stupid, but it’s they way the world works these days.

      1) A “drone pilot” is just an RC pilot who’s done something stupid enough to make the local news.

    2. Hello Frank. I think it is a bit late to even concern ourselves with the operational data. The AMA has had 2 years to protect our “HOBBY” and they have failed to do so. Over a million dollars of our membership dues have been spent and who knows how man man hours and all that has happened was that the FAA did what they wanted. The best attorney should have been hired from the start and put the proverbial foot down to enforce the special rule for model aircraft. As I stated before I am raising two special needs grandchildren and I take my 11 year old grandson, who is ADHD, SPD and on the autism spectrum flying often. This is no different than going to the park and playing ball or soccer. It is a HOBBY that I have every right in a FREE country to enjoy at my leisure. I will never register my aircraft nor will I call the airport control tower to ask their permission to fly. The DATA at this point is pointless. Lets move on, band together and fight this. The AMA has failed because they do not have a set. The very first thing they should have done, “as a PRIVATE organization” would have to recommend to the membership NOT to register. That would have sent the best message. But they bowed down to the FAA. I will not renew my AMA and from the looks of MOST of the commentary neither will countless others. I am predicting that AMA memberships start dropping at 20% per year and that there will be no AMA in 5 years. I sincerely hope I am wrong and something good happens very soon.

    1. It is true that the more data we can acquire will allow for better analysis, however the data we do have should not be discredited. There are many heavily populated areas in the country (Texas, Florida, parts of Arizona, etc.) where more flying is done in the winter months than the summer due to extreme heat. Through continued education we at the AMA hope that these downward trends will continue in the future.

      1. Interesting thought, so I looked at my consolidated data. Looking at the three states you listed: Texas, Florida, and Arizona, I still don’t know that we can say they’ve “gone down.” In those for states, in November 2014 there was 7 sightings and in November 2015 there was 22 (a 214% increase). In December 2014 there was 6 sightings, in December 2015 there was 21 (a 250% increase), and in January 2015 there was 7 sightings, in January 2016 there was 34 (a 385% increase).

        As for how much the summer / winter thing affects the numbers, all three of the states you listed account for 288 reports over the two FAA data dumps. The entire US data set contains 1346 reports. So these three states where “more flying takes place in the winter” account for only 21% of all sightings. Thus I think it’s a safe assumption that what’s driving the “decrease” in reports in the period Aug15 to Jan16 vs. the prior period is indeed heavily influenced by season.

  3. Additionally, the first report contains 764 data points, for events between November 2014 and 20 August 2015. The second report contains 582 data points for the period between 21 August 2015 and January 2016. The second report, for which some use as justification for a “decrease” has no data for June and July – both tied for second in number of reports (behind August).

    So again, any “decrease” appears to be heavily influenced by the seasons.

  4. It’s easy to play with numbers and make it look like the FAA has made a difference in order to justify their new regulations.

  5. There is too much “BS” in the world, period. Where is the source of The Truth? Who can you believe?

    Those who do not break the law will never be a statistic or identified, unless of course the FAA has its way. Only the law breakers will be counted and the law-abiding citizens will suffer because of the idiots that get caught doing what they are not supposed to be doing.

    At least this news is promising if only anecdotal.

  6. The number one reason I lost faith in your so called endeavor to protect members rights. THE REQUIREMENT TO REGISTER. You (AMA) have not mentioned your opposition to this requirement. You say nothing about any effort to get this requirement rescinded. One of my basic rights as a citizen is my right to privacy, which you claim as an organization to protect. When you show that you are actually trying to get the registering requirement abolished then I will have faith in your effort. Until then you can count on my non support and non renewal of my membership.

  7. FrankM raises several valid concerns about the data. I will feel better when an FAA funding reauthorization retaining wording friendly to hobbyists is finally signed into law. The AMA is “confident” that a bill friendly to us will eventually pass, but the commercial value of drones is so great that we cannot sit back and assume that the final bill will not harm hobbyists. In that context, saying anything drone incidents based on shaky data is like arguing about how many angels fit on the head of a pin. The AMA needs to focus on getting a hobby friendly FAA reauthorization bill signed into law.

    1. The first report contained data for both of these months and the first 20 days of August, arguably the heaviest flying months of the year in a nationwide sample. Yet the second report, the basis for saying there was a decrease, contained no data for June, no data for July, and only 10 days of August.

  8. Your never going to stop an idiot from flying a drone around airports. Do you think some guy who made $5000.00 before lunch sitting in his Lazyboy cares about rules. He made five grand before lunch and seen a cool quad commercial and went and bought one. It’s like the episode of “jackass” when Bam was throwing RC planes off a Hollywood Hills balcony and just watching them crash or fly away. Do you think he cares about your stupid rules. I’m not renewing my AMA, and I’m not registering my aircraft. If my Name, Address, and Phone Number attached to the inside isn’t enough, then too bad.

  9. I Agree with Frank M.s analysis. Although retired, I claim to have been an engineer for many years and dealt with dta trends in the pursuit of my profession. You need at least two data points just to draw a line. You need several data points to discern a trend. There is not yet enough data to safely determine that sightings of “drones” (UAVs) safe increasing or decreasing. I am hopeful that the trends ARE heading in the right directions but am hesitant to declare success yet. I appreciate the efforts that AMA staff is exerting and urge them to continue on with the work.

  10. I do not believe that your analysis is totally correct. From a hobby shop owner’s perspective, I believe the drone sightings are down because people are not buying them as much as they were last year… My 2 stores are down 30%+ and most of that is from decreasing airplane, helicopter, and multi-rotor systems sales… Thanks FAA and the economy!

    1. I’m seeing the same at our retail location especially in the multi- rotor area.


  11. I wish that AMA had distanced itself from the drone fliers instead of seeing dollar signs in hopes of new members. Maybe model airplanes wouldn’t have been dragged into the new legislation.

    This year would have been the Tulsa Glue Dobbers 67th Annual Free Flight Championships, easily in the top five longest running contests in the country, maybe in the top three. I first flew at our present venue, the Perry Municipal Airport, in a 1967 FAI Team Selection Semifinals. We fly on the closed runways of an old WWII training site, staying clear of the one remaining active runway. Because the airport manager doesn’t want to risk his FAA funding for violating the new regulations, we’ve been denied access to the airport where the past 35 Annuals have been held, where we’ve always been welcomed before.

    Very disappointing.

  12. I feel that part of the reason there has been a reduction in sightings is that there are less of them around due to inexperienced operators crashing, breaking and losing them.
    I also wish everyone, including the AMA, would stop referring to these quad copters as drones. The definition of a drone is ANY unmanned, remotely controlled aircraft or vessel. In referring to “drones” they are also including ALL RC aircraft and boats,and I don’t want to be lumped together with those who are giving model aviation a bad name.

  13. Well Frank, it looks like you caught the AMA a a big ol lie. SHAME ON THEM TRYING TO FAKE ALL OF THAT INFO.Trying to make it look like they were doing something meaningful Some of the sightings were rockets and birds. Did you take that into your data? It is good to know that no matter how hard anyone tries there is always someone who will be critical of what they did or what they say. Is data analysis 100% or is there room to interpret something differently than your opinion of the data. I don`t know, just asking. AMA did not need to give this report seems like they are just trying to keep us informed

    1. Did a “find” routine for “rocket”, “balloon”, “bird”, and “kite”, and found a total of 39 reports in total. Hardly any significant effect on the totals or the trends. I maintain that year over year for same months, reports are not down, but up, and up significantly. Total reports in first release vs. second release appear to be heavily driven by the season of the months contained in the two releases. The “analysis” released by the organization was sloppy and hurts the credibility of the organization. I’ve offered to help them do data analysis to avoid this problem, but alas they appear to know better.

  14. I am a pilot and a few months ago I searched the NASA database where pilots, controllers and mechanics report various things and searched on “drones”. A lot of things came up, some interesting and some unbelievable but I was looking specifically for drone strikes with aircraft. I did not do an exhaustive search but I couldn’t find a single strike. Can anyone tell me how many actual drone strikes there have been?

  15. Your report that drone sightings have declined is a gross misrepresentation of the data you have presented. Furthermore, you have no data on which to attribute this decline to education. While the month to month numbers have declined from the Aug 2015 high, this is expected due to a simple factor called weather/temperature. The conclusions drawn from your analysis are not supported by the data. Yes, the data that you have should not be discredited, however the same cannot be said of your analysis.

    Furthermore, before you make a rebuttal to support your conclusions e.g. suggesting that warm weather areas (FL, AZ, and TX) have more winter flights, you should have checked the data first because, when the data was examined, it neither supported your initial conclusion nor your rebuttal. Net result: you look uninformed or incompetent.

    1. Jim,

      Several weeks ago I emailed my regional VP and the EVP an offer to analyze this data for them, they never even answered. And then the organization releases this? Their intentions are good, but it’s my opinion that they’re in such a hurry to further a narrative or preconceived notions that they don’t bother to make sure the data actually supports them.

  16. Living in South Florida its easy to see why sightings would be down. More and more parks and open areas away from airports are being shut down to UAV flying. When I started this hobby 3 years ago there were multiple safe locations where myself and friends could fly. Locations one by one as the “evil drones” showed up more frequently, we got shut down. Even though we flew within the AMA guidelines, we were banned.
    Another consideration for less sightings is more flyers I know have moved into racing drones which tend not to fly higher then the tree tops on some course layouts. Good luck spotting them from a manned aircraft due to their size and speed.

    There are two locations sanctioned by the AMA in my area, one allocates about a area of about 50 sq yards to fly in, the other is literately a dump that was sodded over and turned into a “park”.

    With all the success of the new safety rules and the FAA’s involvement the noose is tightening to the point I’m about ready to find a new hobby. Perhaps thats been the FAA’s plan all along.

  17. Wishful thinking. This shows a real problem with the AMA. Stop the guessing and putting out false information that very few believe.

  18. Point one – Incompetence at the head of the FAA is obvious and if you look at his background his only qualifying attribute is he’s buddies with the president now and back when they dissolved a business and split the profits.

    Point two – The FCC has a mapping tool that gives layers of every transmission device in America and it would only take another layer to show every model aircraft with GPS in America. If your a concerned pilot, better yet the pilots are told to check, then you simply bring up the layer and view what model aircraft are in the area. Add an alert program to model aircraft to warn the pilot to bring it in if a private or commercial aircraft is in the area. He has two minutes to get it under 400 ft or the GPS on the model aircraft with do it for him. Come on guys. We’re in the computer age and this crap could be done in the digital circuits age. I know both by the way. Actually, I taught both. Also, I worked weapons control. A pilot with a set of our hobby invented goggles could see every model aircraft that was coming up and would tell the pilot he is full of it when he falsely identifies our model aircraft as a sighting and remove it from the sighting list automatically. Jackass pilots. Most pilots have morals. These false sightings need to stuffed down their throats. Oh, a HUD headset is easy to build so that you still have line of sight and a heads up display of the FPV for model aircraft guys or display everything around the aircraft for commercial and private pilots. I retired from the Air Force twenty years ago. Isn’t anyone in the military, FAA, commercial, or private aircraft using a brain. If you don’t get what I’m saying to fix these issues, have AMA send me an email. None of this has to be an issue. The FAA is being run by commercial aviation. I get that. Everyone on the hill is allowing it. We need a new crew up there guys.

  19. I am pleased that the AMA has looked into the data and have found some interesting results particularly the number of incidents in which the full scale pilot took action and the involvement of military drones. The AMA’s efforts are appreciated. It is the conclusions and the article headline that I find unsubstantiated by the data.


  21. yea sightings are down now that the government got what it wanted out of it. We have been manipulated by the press because the feds control what they want to get out to the public. This reeks of manipulation, and I guess the AMA thinks that they actually did something here. SAD.

  22. The FAA licensing scheme is utterly meaningless. If the AMA had taken a true leadership role, they would have advised the membership to refuse to comply with the FAA licensing “requirement”. There are 188,000 members of the AMA. Even if the FAA tried to fine an entire club, the cost to do so could be prohibitive. A “Madison fund” defense can be set up and it would essentially cover the fined members and make the case of enforcement so prohibitive for the feds that they would simply stop. The FAA licensing serves no useful purpose other than to remind us that Big Brother is Watching.

  23. It would be nice if the media would report the positive things that UAVs do every day,but I seem to forget that the news media thrives on bad stories anyway.The name “DRONE” scares people. To me “Drone” means military “surveillance and destroy”

  24. *These stats have been brought to you by the SAME PEOPLE who made all the model airplane pilots sign up (AMA plus independent flyers) and then boastfully reported that they had registered over 300,000 DRONES. They weren’t drones, they were sailplanes and piper cubs. Are these lies, damn lies, or statistics?

    *The AMA needs to give us the stats about how many of their 180,000 members that they had last year NO LONGER FLY BECAUSE THEY REFUSED TO REGISTER WITH THE GOVERNMENT LIKE SEX OFFENDERS. I am one of those who has thousands of dollars invested in a hobby I can no longer practice. Where are those stats AMA? (They did report that new AMA memberships are up–mostly those new members are multi-copter pilots who needed legitimacy. Many, many radio control model pilots just refused to register and therefor no longer fly, at least legally. Their AMA membership hasn’t run out yet, so they are hidden. They have just become collateral damage in the FAA’s overzealous overstepping. The hobby shops and the industry are also collateral damage in the same way. I want to fly, I miss flying, but what was done to the model airplane hobby as a misguided solution to the manufactured DRONE crisis was criminal. I will not give in to governmental bullying. So I no longer fly model airplanes.

    *Why did the AMA not fight tooth and nail for us last December? They were busy, intimidated, manipulated, and totally preoccupied by a very suspiciously timed large scale AUDIT of their non-profit taxes by the IRS in December and January. This took several months to complete at the very time the AMA should have been on high alert and in full attack mode to repel the unnecessary registration requirement. Very little has been written about this audit and its suspicious timing, but it happened at exactly the time the FAA would have wanted it to happen to distract the AMA and to put the fear of God in them. What is also suspect is that the AMA has never mentioned that this audit may have been timed to disable their defense. Were they bought off with a promise of many new drone members? Did the FAA contact the IRS and ask for the audit? At the time, I thought there must be some hidden factor driving the AMA’s telling us to not register and then to go ahead and register with no clear reason behind either. The audit fits that possible hidden factor. We (the members) may never know what really happened behind those closed doors.

    *I and many others no longer fly, hobby shops sales are down 30%, the public still confuses drones and model airplanes, and yet the AMA and the FAA still puts their energy and focus into telling us what a great job they are doing. Not from where I sit. Not a great job!! Not at all.

    1. The government uses the IRS to put the fear of GOD into the very Americans they are elected to protect. Government officials have the IRS go after their political enemies and anyone else they wish to muffle or stifle actions which they oppose. Tax laws have become so complex that the IRS can always challenge something if they decide to do so or if government officials suggest (order) an audit. Thank GOD our founding fathers put the bill of rights in our constitution. They can’t take that away from us.

    2. Hello John. I couldn’t agree more. I live in Phoenix and 2 hobby shops just closed in the last 2 weeks. I got into the hobby for my challenged grandson and while I may not renew my AMA I will not allow this crap to stop me from flying. I even respectfully addressed my club and told them that I will never register my aircraft and if that puts them in a difficult position that I would resign my membership. They welcomed me to keep flying at the club. I believe the majority of our membership is completely against registration. I hope you continue to fly. Do not let them win.

  25. ‘Funny how many comments I’ve seen here refer to disgruntled flyers getting out of the hobby because they didn’t want to register with the FAA, or they just say they’ll continue flying “illegally”. To me personally it makes no difference whether I’m “registered” or not. If the FAA, Homeland Security, FBI, or whomever wants to monitor my flying they have the capability to do so at any time, so just maybe having my name on “the list” says to them that I’m one of the good guys.
    Furthermore even though I do not fly my planes in an unsafe manner accidents can happen, and the insurance provided thru AMA membership will help if something does happen. We ALL know that the lawyers are out in force just itching to win big settlements in any lawsuit they can.
    I do agree however that “regulations” are becoming more prevalent and continue to encroach on the rights of individuals. That, in itself, is an indication that the law of entropy is at work. As humans in general become more disorderly other humans attempt to “reorder” things with new regulations. How’s THAT working for us?

  26. I’m as frustrated with some of the things that have happened as anyone, and Lord knows I’ve criticized the AMA from time to time, but I do believe they are doing their best. What I just hate to see are “unforced errors” like this report. Credibility with the media, regulators, legislators, and the public is critical to the success. The unsupportable conclusions did nothing more than hand these groups a stick to beat us with. It gives them all the reason they need to discount what we say. Can we really afford that again?

    I have formal education and 20 years practical experience in Aviation Safety Information Management and Management of Accident Prevention Programs. Since I retired, I managed a safety performance improvement program in a major industry, and have been doing operational data analysis for the last four years.

    I offered help last time, nobody took me up on the offer. When the next FAA release is published, I’m offering again to help.

    1. WELL. If you offered to help the AMA and they did not use you then how does that equate to them “doing their best”.

      1. Dale,

        I was being polite. I’ve tried to convince a number of them that things need to change and what I’ve received in response has been variations of this has worked for 80 years. Well, a quote comes to mind:

        “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ is the slogan of the complacent, the arrogant or the scared. It’s an excuse for inaction, a call to non-arms. It’s a mindset that assumes (or hopes) that today’s realities will continue tomorrow in a tidy, linear and predictable fashion. Pure fantasy. In this sort of culture, you won’t find people who proactively take steps to solve problems as they emerge.” – Former Secretary of State & Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell

        1. Yes. And being polite is what the AMA has done as well. Guess it is time to stop being polite

  27. I just printed a comment but because it was not favorable, you didn’t print it. Why should I renew when the AMA is just the tail of the FAA. The report does nothing for the members, just blowing smoke.

  28. I still don’t like the damned quads (drones). They have given model aviation a black eye and irreparable harm to our great hobby is going to result. The hobby industry and the AMA jumped on the drones as a way of creating more profit, e.g, advertising in the AMA mag.

    I would like to see the damned things go away.

  29. It does not help when there are dumb TV ads out there like one of the latest from General Electric where a young lady flies a braindrone. And the guy talking to her says he is working for GE, and talks about working for that company. The lady then loses control of her drone. I don’t want to spoil the suspense and stupidity any further, so here it is. General Electic Braindrone TV Ad

  30. While I’m sure the A.M.A. is doing some good I would not be so fast as to take too much credit ! I’m an avid rc airplane enthusiast and yes I have a A.M.A. membership and yes registered with the newest FAA regulations but know for a fact there are many people out there that has since gotten away from rc flying anything because of the crap stemming from all those irresponsible flyers that have brought about regulations ! I’d also be willing to bet that sales in the rc field or hobby has since dropped because most people think it’s a big deal to fly legally now ! ( and it isn’t )

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