United States: UAS/FAA – Drones v. Airplanes: It's Just A Matter Of Time

Last Updated: March 8 2017
Article by Mark McKinnon

The FAA loves to collect data. One of the statistics they have been monitoring for the past several years is the number of reported UAS sightings by manned aircraft. The FAA just released its latest quarterly report, and the numbers are not good.

According to the FAA, there were a total of 474 UAS sightings over the three months covered by the new data, for an average of 158 sightings per month. This compares to 443 sightings from the same period a year earlier. While the new number is not dramatically worse, it certainly is no improvement. The FAA is using the new numbers to emphasize that it is sending "a clear message that operating drones around airplanes, helicopters and airports is dangerous and illegal. Unauthorized operators may be subject to stiff fines and criminal charges, including possible jail time." The FAA also reiterated that it "has levied civil penalties for a number of unauthorized flights in various parts of the country, and has many open enforcement cases."

While the numbers themselves certainly tell a story, the underlying data makes for interesting reading. The FAA has provided details of each of the 474 sightings in a spreadsheet that can be found HERE. They range from the concerning:

"PRELIM INFO FROM FAA OPS: LAS VEGAS, NV/UAS INCIDENT/1918P/LAS ATCT ADVISED, HELO, WHILE S BOUND ALONG THE STRIP, REPORTED UAS OVER THE EXCALIBUR HOTEL AT 3,000 FEET. NO EVASIVE ACTION TAKEN. LAS METRO NOTIFIED.

UAS MOR Alert for LAS

Type: Hazardous and/or Unauthorized UAS Activity

Date/Time: Sep 25, 2016 – 0218Z

A/C: (HELO)

Summary: CONFIGURATION TWO LANDING RWY 1L,1R DEPARTING RWY 7L ACFT WAS SOUTHBOUND ALONG THE STRIP WHEN HE NOTIFIED ATC OF A DRONE OVER THE EXCALIBUR HOTEL AT 3000FT. LAS NOTIFIED LAS METRO.

To the disturbing:

"PRELIM INFO FROM FAA OPS: IAH/UAS INCIDENT/1830C/HOUSTON TRACON ADVISED AMERICAN GENERAL AA5, REPORTED A NMAC WITH A BLACK UAS APPROXIMATELY 2 FT TALL WHILE W BOUND AT 2,500 FEET 11 WSW IAH. ACFT TURNED LEFT TO AVOID UAS. FBI NOTIFIED.

UAS MOR Alert for I90

Type: Hazardous and/or Unauthorized UAS Activity

Date/Time: Jul 3, 2016 – 2330Z

A/C: (AA5)

Summary: Pilot advised he took evasive action to avoid a stationary or slow moving north bound UAS. ACN."

To the frightening:

"PRELIM INFO FROM FAA OPS: PITTSBURGH, PA/UAS INCIDENTS/0013E/EC135, REPORTED TWO UAS ONE RED AND THE OTHER WHITE AT 2,500 FEET APPX. 5.5 MILES SE OF PITTSBURGH ARPT. AN IMMEDIATE CLIMB WAS REQUIRED TO AVOID THE UAS.

UAS MOR Alert for PIT

Type: Hazardous and/or Unauthorized UAS Activity

Date/Time: Jul 24, 2016 – 0413Z

A/C: (EC135)

Summary: ACFT IN VFR FLIGHT, AT 2500 MSL, FROM DOWNTOWN PITTSBURGH ENROUTE TO 4G4. APPROXIMATELY 5.5 MILES SE OF BVI AIRPORT, THE PILOT REPORTED TWO DRONES IN FRONT OF AIRCRAFT, AT 2500 MSL, WHICH REQUIRED AN IMMEDIATE CLIMB TO AVOID THE UAS. THE HELICOPTER CLIMBED AND LEVELED AT 3500. WHEN PIT REQUESTED MORE INFO, THE PILOT STATED HE OBSERVED TWO """"DRONES"""", ONE UAS WAS RED AND THE OTHER WHITE, AND THEIR POSITION WAS 2.5 MILES FROM BEAVER FALLS CITY, """"ON THE WEST SIDE OF THE OHIO RIVER"""". AT 0418Z, DISPATCH CALLED PIT APCH TO REPORT THE INCIDENT. HELO 14 RESUMED THE FLIGHT TO 4G4, AND DID NOT REQUIRE ANY FURTHER ASSISTANCE.

The biggest take-away from this data is that the FAA's job of educating drone users will never end. No matter how good the education program was last year or last month, there is a continuous flow of new entrants to the market. Everyone needs to keep their guard up, and continuously promote best practices. Hopefully, a year from today, the numbers will be going down, instead of up.

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