While reports of “near misses” and “sitings” near airports have become common in recent months, the actual level of drone danger to aircraft is debatable, the New York Times reports.
The impact of drones to aircraft safety is important for the burgeoning industry, as the FAA and state and local governments use the hype around near misses to enact strict drone regulations, in some cities, all but banning the use of hobby drones. With holiday sales of drones expected to top 1,000,000 laws, ordinances, and registration plans have been rushed to the table in an effort to limit perceived danger.
The Federal Aviation Administration has repeatedly said that the number of reports of close encounters with drones is soaring, although drones are prohibited from flying near airports. The FAA says that commercial pilots have seen drones at 10,000 feet, and remind the public of the difficulties that California firefighters faced last year when helicopter pilots saw drones flying over wildfires.
DroneLife reported on the computer modeling report that AeroKinetics produced, claiming that drones constitute a deadly threat and must be heavily regulated. (The report was not based on actual tests, but a mathematical comparison of drone power to bird power.)
A more moderate report by the Academy of Model Aeronautics states that only 1.3% of so-called “close calls” resulted in a pilot taking evasive action. An FAA spokesman acknowledges that they have only had two reports of actual near collisions, and those are unproven and undocumented. Of the FAA’s widely touted 764 “close calls” only 3.5% (27) were actually reported as such by the pilots. Many of the 764, the report states, did not involve hobby drones at all, but referred to military and commercial aircraft.
A new study by Bard College researchers at the Center for the Study of the Drone, which will be released Friday, takes a middle ground. Defining “close encounter” by distance rather than by the need to take evasive action, the study reviewed incidents involving drones and manned aircraft reported to the FAA and NASA’s Aviation Safety Reporting System between December 2013 and September 2015.
Defining “close encounter” as drones coming within 500 feet of aircraft, the researchers identified 327 cases that met the definition, with 158 cases of a drone coming within 200 feet or less of aircraft.
As the US waits for the FAA’s announcement on drone registration and debates bans on hobbyist drones in many cities, it would seem that better definitions and clearer statistics are required to inform drone policy.
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
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