The FAA has released an updated drone sightings report, covering the period between February and September 2016. While the FAA continues to say that drone incidents are on the rise, industry groups read a different message in the data.
“Reports of possible drone sightings to FAA air traffic facilities continued to increase during FY 2016,” says the FAA announcement. “There were 1,274 such reports from February through September last year, compared with 874 for the same period in 2015.” The FAA says that they now receive over 100 reports of drone sightings near airports monthly, and stresses that operators need to keep their distance. “Safely integrating unmanned aircraft into the national airspace system is one of the FAA’s top priorities, and the agency wants to send a clear message that operating drones around airplanes and helicopters is dangerous and illegal. Unauthorized operators may be subject to stiff fines and criminal charges, including possible jail time,” says the agency.
But despite the FAA’s claim that more sightings represent an increase in danger to aircraft and passengers – calling unauthorized drone flight “dangerous, illegal activity” – the Drone Manufacturers Alliance takes a different point: the FAA has acknowledged that so far, despite numerous headlines to the contrary, there hasn’t ever been a real incident.
“Although the data contain several reports of pilots claiming drone strikes on their aircraft, to date the FAA has not verified any collision between a civil aircraft and a civil drone,” acknowledges the FAA, “Every investigation has found the reported collisions were either birds, impact with other items such as wires and posts, or structural failure not related to colliding with an unmanned aircraft.”
That’s the real point of the data, indicates the Drone Manufacturers Alliance, an organization formed by major global drone manufacturers including 3DR, DJI, GoPro and Parrot. “…the FAA’s latest report on drone sightings once again confirms that unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) have an admirable safety record,” says the Alliance response. And while the numbers of sightings have increased, the Alliance points out that they’ve increased far more slowly than drone use has grown.
“The FAA successfully opened America’s skies to safe, lawful and authorized drone use for professional purposes last year, and expects the number of drones being used for personal and professional purposes to almost double this year. Yet this new report shows the number of “possible drone sightings” growing at a much slower rate – and confirms that no drone has ever collided with a manned aircraft,” says the Alliance.
“Reputable analyses of FAA data show that many ‘possible drone sightings’ turn out to be perfectly legitimate drone flights, or objects that clearly are not drones, and we expect these latest reports will show the same pattern,” said Kara Calvert, Director of the Drone Manufacturers Alliance. “The Drone Manufacturers Alliance expects all our members’ customers to fly safely, responsibly and far away from airplanes and helicopters. That’s why our members are constantly developing new technology to enhance safety, while working closely with the FAA and promoting its Know Before You Fly campaign to encourage educated flight.”
“This report is another example of how claims of potential drone sightings need to be considered carefully and in a proper context,” Calvert said. “We are committed to ensuring drones are used safely and responsibly, even as age-old hazards such as birds and wires remain far more prevalent in America’s skies.”
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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