The FAA seems intent on highlighting the hazard to airplanes of collisions with drones. But is the agency exaggerating the threat and cooking the numbers? There’s reason to believe it is.
In recent months, we’ve heard about more than a few airplane pilots, some of them at the controls of airliners, alerting controllers to a “close call” with a drone.
But there’s at least one agency critic, the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA), that thinks the FAA needs to look more closely at such reports and then publicize them responsibly. According to the AMA, the FAA’s own data shows that many of the sightings were just that, sightings and not close calls. While an airplane seeing a drone in flight almost guarantees that the drone is being flown in off-limits airspace, it doesn’t mean that a collision was likely or even possible. In other words, a sighting isn’t the same thing as a near miss, not even close. That’s the AMA’s position, and it makes a lot of sense to us.
At the same time, the AMA points out that at least some of the near misses involved the government’s own drones, which doesn’t really address the subject of getting drone operators to be better behaved before there’s an accident. Other operators who have been targeted by the FAA in these reports are commercial operators, and not hobbyists, inspecting fields or making movies, but apparently without following the FAA regulations for doing so.
A lot of the reports are made by pilots who appear to be flying in places they shouldn’t have been in the first place, like around stadiums during games, or at wildfires or other natural disasters, where authorized airborne law enforcement, fire suppression and medical support flights need to be.
One reporter, according to the AMA, even went so far as to report something in flight that “resembled a dog.” Air Bud, we wonder?