Last year the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced it would be requiring all drone owners to register so their personal information, including home address, could be published for all to see. This requirement was justified under the claim that personally owned drones posed a major threat to other forms of aviation traffic. A lot of people, including myself, called bullshit on that and now research exists backing up our accusation:
That research, shown in a study just published by George Mason University’s Mercatus Center, was based on damage to aircraft from another sort of small, uncrewed aircraft—flying birds.
Much of the fear around drones hitting aircraft has been driven by FAA reports from pilots who have claimed near-misses with small drones. But an investigation last year by the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) found that of the 764 near-miss incidents with drones recorded by the FAA, only 27 of them—3.5 percent—actually were near misses. The rest were just sightings, and those were often sightings that took place when drone operators were following the rules. The FAA also overcounted, including reports where the pilot said explicitly that there was no near miss and some where the flying object wasn’t identified, leading the AMA to accuse the FAA of exaggerating the threat in order to get support for its anti-drone agenda.
So for starters all the “near misses” we’ve read about in the media weren’t near misses. A vast majority of them were mere sightings. But the FAA’s bullshit doesn’t stop there:
There hasn’t yet been an incident in which a drone has struck an aircraft. But bird strikes (and bat strikes) do happen, and there’s a rich data set to work from to understand how often they do. Researchers Eli Dourado and Samuel Hammond reasoned that the chances of a bird strike remain much higher than that of an aircraft hitting a drone because “contrary to sensational media headlines, the skies are crowded not by drones but by fowl.”
The researchers studied 25 years of FAA “wildlife strike” data, reports voluntarily filed by pilots after colliding with birds. The data included over 160,000 reported incidents of collisions with birds, of which only 14,314 caused damage—and 80 percent of that number came from collisions with large or medium-sized birds such as geese and ducks.
Emphasis mine. No drones have struck a plane yet, which means the threat of drones to already existing aviation traffic is still entirely unrealized. Hell, this combined with the fact most reported near misses weren’t near misses, we should actually take a moment to recognize how much of a nonissue personally owned drones have been so far. Drone operators by and large have been very well behaved.
The data on wildlife strikes is also valuable since it indicates that when a drone finally does strike a plane there probably won’t be much damage to the plane. Most personally owned drones are more fragile than the large or medium sized birds that managed to cause damage when colliding with a plane.
What we have here is another example of a government money grab disguised as a crisis. With the FAA’s new rules in place the agency can extract $5 from every registered drone operator and up to $250,000 from operating a drone without being registered. Furthermore, the FAA can up the fees and fines as it sees fit.