AMA logoOn March 25, 2016, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released a new list of 582 “drone sightings” covering the period August 21, 2015 through January 31, 2016 (“March 2016 data”).

The Academy of Model Aeronautics (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.

AMA’s updated analysis of the new 582 FAA records continues to show that the number of “near misses” and “close calls” is a small percentage of the overall data set.

  • The number of reported near misses and close calls in the March 2016 data is very small – just 3.3%. The vast majority of the reports are sightings, which even the FAA’s language acknowledges.
  • Despite estimates that as many as one million drones were sold during the 2015 holiday season, the number of sightings has not increased as one might expect. In fact, the number of sightings appears to be declining after peaking in August 2015.
  • A number of sightings may involve people flying responsibly and within the FAA’s current guidelines. In the 2 March 2016 data the AMA identified 38 reports of drones flying at or below 400 feet.
  • Like the August 2015 data, the March 2016 data contains reports of several objects other than drones, including balloons, birds, a rocket and even a jet pack. The FAA’s drone data continues to be a “catch all” for any object spotted in the sky.
  • Despite the FAA’s intent to find and punish careless and reckless operators, law enforcement notifications appear to be on the decline.
More excellent work by the AMA team. There is much more analysis and interpretation in the press release. Despite all the good news, the fact remains that

“Pilots took evasive action [attributed to drones] in 14 instances, or 2.4% of the reports.”

Now consider this “In response to AMA’s previous analysis of the August 2015 data, an FAA spokesman had this to offer: Since the majority of the pilot reports can’t be verified — the drones typically don’t show up on radar nor is the operator identified — we can’t say for certain what the actual separation distance was. The use of the phrase ‘close calls’ is simply part of a news headline; there is no regulatory definition of ‘close call,’ as such.”

Download the AMA Analysis

2 COMMENTS

  1. Commander –

    Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to share your expertise. It is greatly appreciated.

    In one of my other lives I do market research. You are absolutely correct, this is lousy data. Seems as though there needs to be some agreement on terminology and perhaps dedicated blanks or drop down menus if the goal is consistency. Similarly, pilots need to be trained to be better observers – not easy when you believe your life and that of your passengers is in danger. Someone should do a 3D simulation of the view out a cockpit window of an 18″ object at 100-200 knots – bet there isn’t much to see.

    Furthermore I had not considered the seasonal swings which now that you point them out are likely a factor.

    That said, I very much agree with Jason Koebler’s assessment that “Misinforming the public and using public relations, scare tactics, and potentially unenforceable fines to cover up the failures of the agency aren’t going to do anyone any favors in the long run.” In that regard I think that the AMA has done a service in that they have “forced” the FAA to be a bit more restrained in their reporting. As Jason wrote, the FAA is not a reliable narrator – nor is their reporting centralized. People believe what they are told until they get tired of hearing about the wolf they can’t see.

    Thank you again. Your comments are most welcome.

  2. I would be cautions about reading too much into the AMA release. 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 effort to identify some rather glaring flaws in this “analysis.”

    First, the data itself is far from complete. The FAA’s first data ran from November of 2014 through August of 2015, and the most recent release ran from August 2015 through January 2016. Thus the first data set is data for all 50 states and captures spring and summer warm weather months. In contrast, the most recent release, which also contains national data, is heavily biased toward seasons where it’s reasonable to assume far fewer people are out flying drones. In fact, if one looks a high population generally fair weather state like Florida, one sees that there is mathematical trend upward over time.

    Secondly, if one combines all the data, there is a troubling trend that is not mentioned at all in the “analysis.” For each calendar month were there is data for 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).

    Lastly, the “analysis” relies heavily on the presence or absences of very specific phrases 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, thus making the “analysis” unreliable and conclusions drawn from it weak – at best.

    It would have been wise to wait until there was two full years worth of data, where the environmental factors detailed above will be averaged out, before reporting that the number of events has decreased.

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