On November 26, the New York Times ran an article about an FAA report about the “safety concerns” regarding “the proliferation of the unmanned vehicles buzzing the skies.”
“Now,” the Times said, the FAA “has released a tally of drone misbehavior this year” (emphasis added).
Misbehaviors? Let’s take a closer look.
The Times asked for documentation from the FAA, and received a spreadsheet from the agency cataloging all of the “misbehaviors” reported to them — 194 reports in all for 2014, up to that date. The full file is available for download below, if you’d like to go through it.
And going through it brings out some interesting details. Such as the fact that most of the incidents are mere sightings of drones. That’s right: people reported merely seeing a drone in the sky, and that’s the vast majority of the “misbehaviors” — someone had the gall to actually safely fly their drones!
The horror! Stop the presses! Call the feds! Eeeeeeeeeek!
Yes, absolutely there were some scattered reports of poor or unsafe flying, too, including incidents that should certainly result in citations issued to the operators. No question.
But to say that “the list still provides a good idea of why the F.A.A. and others are increasingly concerned about the safe operation of drones,” as the Times says, is alarmist crap. There are not 194 reports of “misbehavior” at all.
In fact, many of the reports don’t involve hobby drones at all, but involved unmanned airplanes operating at up to 25,000 ft altitudes — airplanes with 5′ wingspans.
Even reports from airliner pilots don’t indicate specific concerns. The most recont report in the file notes that a Frontier Airbus pilot reported a “CIRCULAR SHAPED UAS WITH 6 TRIPOD TYPE LIGHTS CIRCLING BETWEEN 1,500 – 1,600 FEET 3 NE TRENTON ARPT.” Um, 3 what? Three miles away from the Trenton, N.J. airport. He didn’t say that the drone was in the way, or that he had to take evasive maneuvers — but merely that he saw it.
In Hawaii, the U.S. Coast Guard reported that “THE ADMIRAL’S RESIDENCE AT DIAMOND HEAD LIGHTHOUSE WAS OVERFLOWN BY A DJ PHANTOM QUADCOPTER UAS OPERATED BY A PHOTOGRAPHER. NO PROPERTY DAMAGE OR IMPACT ON NAS. NO OTHER AIRCRAFT INVOLVED.” It’s a “misbehavior” to fly over public property and not get in anyone’s way?
When there was in fact potential danger (for instance, near the Miami Seaport, where there are seaplanes in operation), “OFFICER APPROACH[ed] INDIVIDUAL AND INSTRUCTED THEM TO DISCONTINUE UAS FLIGHT.” Simple as that.
Again, there are at least some reports that cause concern, for example at Oklahoma’s Tinker Air Force Base: “OKLAHOMA CITY ATCT [air traffic control tower] REPORTED AN ACFT [aircraft] REPORTED TAKING EVASIVE ACTION TO AVOID A SMALL UAS AT 4,800 FEET, 2 FEET WIDE BLACK IN COLOR WITH A CAMERA ATTACHED ON THE BOTTOM. PILOT REPORTED UAS CAME WITHIN 10 – 20 FEET OF ACFT 10 N TINKER. LEOS [law enforcement officers] NOTIFIED.”
Certainly that is a drone pilot who should be investigated and, if warranted, prosecuted.
Are there problems with irresponsible drone pilots? Absolutely, and that needs to be addressed in a rational and measured manner. But not by calling a mere sighting of a drone an “incident” or a “misbehavior” in need of federal action.
- New York Times article: New F.A.A. Report Tallies Drone Sightings, Highlighting Safety Issues
- The FAA file for download direct from this site: FAA_drone_data (Excel spreadsheet xlsx format, 43K)