DRONE SIGHTINGS ANALYSIS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
UNMANNED AIRCRAFT SAFETY TEAM DRONE SIGHTINGS WORKING GROUP DECEMBER 12, 2017
The Unmanned Aircraft Safety Team (UAST) is charged with acquiring and analyzing data in order to identify and advance safety improvements for both manned and unmanned aircraft operations. As part of that effort, a multi-stakeholder working group was formed to review and analyze the FAA’s UAS sightings reports and the current system for reporting sightings of unmanned aircraft. These reports and associated information have been periodically released by the FAA to the general public, at times heightening general concerns about the risk unmanned aircraft pose to manned aviation. The working group undertook to review and better qualify and quantify informative data for 3,417 reports spanning August 2015 through March 2017.
Initial review of the data showed widespread variance on a number of critical parameters. The working group undertook to at least partially mitigate these shortcomings through a consensus-based data analysis methodology that sought to provide reliable and potentially actionable insights. This methodology is more fully described below, but was designed to use a variety of parameters that may enhance the veracity and informative nature of the reports. Data points—such as whether the report was filed by a pilot and whether evasive action was taken—were questions the working group felt improved the quality of the overall analysis. Data that could potentially be excised was included in order to assure an informative sample size. Examples of this include sightings where there was no violation of regulations or the sighting was of an object other than a drone, such as a bird or balloon.
While we believe the working group’s methodology helped provide valuable insights, ultimately the data set is too inconsistent and unstandardized to extract concrete conclusions. The current structure, inconsistency and unrefined nature of the sightings reports disproportionately exacerbate concerns about manned-unmanned interactions and do not provide industry or government with actionable data on which to base safety enhancements and regulatory or operational decision-making. As noted in our findings, some valuable data can be extracted, but we believe a concerted effort to define the scope can significantly improve the quality of sightings, and that enhanced and continuing education in both the manned and unmanned community will provide a measurable improvement for all aircraft operating in the National Airspace System (NAS).