Are Pilots Over-Reporting “Near Misses” Between Drones and Airplanes?

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Are Pilots Over-Reporting “Near Misses” Between Drones and Airplanes?

Historically speaking, the FAA has had a difficult job; imagine the complexity of safely coordinating all of the air traffic. Now, thanks to the rapid proliferation of drones, the FAA’s job has gotten even harder. Drones are responsible for creating 770,000+ new pilots. While the drone operators aircraft is small, it still shares the same airspace, and as such falls into the FAAs domain.

With so many new pilots and so many new aircraft, it’s logical that we’d see some an increase in reports of pilots seeing “strange airborne objects” and an increase in near collisions. However, the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) recently published a report, based on data from the FAA, that showed out of 1,270 drone sightings only 44 were actually near misses which translates into just 3.4%. This means that the other 96.6% of the 1,270 drone sightings were “benign.”

The Federal Aviation Administration exists to keep the skies safe for people. In the past two years, that task has grown much more complex. The FAA added an unprecedented number of new pilots: 770,000 registered drone operators, which is almost 200,000 more than the 584,000 total pilot certificates held in 2016. As one might expect, that massive increase in people operating flying machine is accompanied by a jump in how many pilots saw strange airborne objects.

What didn’t change, even as hundreds of thousands of drones joined the skies over the United States, is the number of dangerous close encounters with drones. The Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA), a hobbyist organization founded in 1936, today published a report examining the reported close calls between drones and crewed aircraft. Looking at data collected and published by the FAA, the AMA report found that, out of a dataset of 1,270 drone sightings released in February 2017, only 44 of those encounters, or 3.4 percent, were near misses or close calls. Further, this is consistent with data provided in 2016 and 2015, where the number of closes calls hovered between 3.3 and 3.5 percent of the total reports.

“Back in the 70s and 80s, everything pilots saw was a UFO. Now everything they see is a drone,” laughed Richard Hanson, President of the Academy of Model Aeronautics. “Drones are the new UFOs.”

Report: 96 percent of pilot-reported drone sightings are totally benign

By |2017-06-04T12:38:43-08:00June 5th, 2017|Drones, FAA, Safety|Comments Off on Are Pilots Over-Reporting “Near Misses” Between Drones and Airplanes?

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Sam Estrin
I'm an avid drone enthusiast and part-time drone blogger living outside of the DC area. I track drone news and write editorials and timely drone news stories that I find interesting. If you like my stories, you can follow me on Twitter or visit me at LinkedIn. If you'd like me to write for your drone oriented publication or blog, you can contact me at