More Drones Doesn’t Mean More Close Calls

Reports by pilots of manned aircraft of ‘close calls’ with other airborne objects is nothing new. Balloons, birds, kites, parasails and the like have caused concern for aviators since the advent of manned flight. It is therefore unsurprising that the increasing number of drones in our skies is worrying pilots and the FAA alike. However, a new report suggests that there is little to fret about.

Back in the 1930s, the Academy of Model Aeronautics was founded in order to manage the interests of model plane enthusiasts and to help create guidelines for their safe usage in relation to conventional airplanes. Over recent years, it has extended its scope to include the growing number of drones being used in the United States. Last month, the AMA published a report which looked closely at the reports of ‘close calls’ made by pilots, between their aircraft and drones.

The details of that report can be summarized as follows: of 1,270 drone sightings reported by the Federal Aviation Authority in February of this year, only 44 could actually be considered to be ‘close calls’. This figure represents 3.4% of all reported incidents – a percentage in line with the 3.3% of last year and the 3.5% from the previous year. All this is made even more interesting by the fact that the actual number of registered drone users has rocketed within that time period. In 2016, the FAA had records of 584,000 drone pilot certificates, a figure which has already jumped to over 770,000 at the time of writing.

Unsurprisingly, the growing numbers of drones taking to our skies has led to an increased number of reported sightings. Richard Hanson, President of the Academy of Model Aeronautics believes, however, that drones are being blamed for any appearance of unknown airborne objects:

“Back in the 70s and 80s, everything pilots saw was a UFO. Now everything they see is a drone. Drones are the new UFOs.”

The AMA report can be seen in some ways as a response to an earlier report, published by the FAA in 2015, entitled “Pilot Reports of Close Calls With Drones Soar In 2015”. That report detailed sightings of quadcopters and other drones, which were overwhelmingly engaged in perfectly lawful behavior. While manned aircraft typically fly at over 500 feet, the report detailed sighting of drone activity at under 200 feet – well under the 400-foot ceiling imposed by the FAA.

The AMA felt it necessary to clarify the issue due to to the importance of drones in technical education. Drones now play an integral part of STEM education in curricula across the country.

Andrew Maxwell

Andrew is a former journalist who now works as a freelance writer specializing in tech and gadgets. He currently resides in Thailand.

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