Drone Near Miss Data should not be categorically dismissed

john goglia faa pilot drone sightings
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John Goglia Wants the FAA to Stop Tracking Pilot Drone Sightings

Not So — The FAA is Aware of & Will Not Base Regulation on Unreliable Reporting

John Goglia, former NTSB Board Member and one of the Most Influential People in the Drone Industry, has published an article in Forbes magazine, entitled “Latest Reports Prove FAA Should Just Stop Tracking Pilot Drone Sightings.” His logic for this conclusion is well stated in his introductory paragraph (abbreviated):

“It never made much sense for the FAA to call on pilots to report seeing a drone from the air. After all, it’s very difficult to distinguish small objects from a moving plane or to distinguish a drone from a bird or a balloon…But these small drones have proven to have a remarkable safety record over the last few years of their exponential growth. As an unvetted ‘database’, the reports were bound to be a waste of time and money and only lead to sensational headlines about the number of pilot ‘near misses’ with drones.”

Pilot Drone Sightings

The former accident investigator, par excellence, then vets the data and summarizes his analyses as follows:

It’s impossible to know in the vast majority of these sightings whether the pilots saw a drone or something else. At altitudes of 5,000 feet and higher, it’s hard to imagine that these are the small consumer drones that the FAA was so concerned about. In fact, in several of the reports, the pilots themselves state they are unsure if what they saw was a balloon or a drone.

Reporting drone sightings that cannot be verified and appear to have no safety impact doesn’t make much sense. At a minimum these reports should be screened to eliminate those sightings that are too speculative to reach conclusions about and focus on the handful that appear to have potential safety impacts.”

For a labor leader, that language sounds remarkably libertarian.

Pilot Drone Sightings

drone near miss reportingMember Goglia is correct in saying that raw data is not reliable in the first iteration of analysis. It is susceptible to the accountants’/statisticians’ GIGO rule (garbage in, garbage out). His own Forbes article resoundingly concluded that the FAA’s numbers did not demonstrate any menace by UASs. Thus, he sent a message to the primary target for why the FAA should stop the near miss reporting—misuse of the numbers by the press and the FAA.

THE FAA’S OWN PRESS RELEASE MADE THE SAME POINT ABOUT CONCLUSIONS TO BE DRAWN BY READERS OF THIS REPORT:

“Although the data contain several reports of pilots claiming drone strikes on their aircraft, to date the FAA has not verified any collision between a civil aircraft and a civil drone. Every investigation has found the reported collisions were either birds, impact with other items such as wires and posts, or structural failure not related to colliding with an unmanned aircraft.

The Forbes piece seems to suggest that armed with such disingenuous data, that the FAA would issue further draconian regulations (note to Malek Murison, author of the MIPDI list; the FAA can issue regulations, not legislation). Not so; in fact based on its experience with this industry, for which historical data was minimal at the time of issuance of 14 CFR Part 107, it is clear that the trend line for UAS operations will be increasingly liberalized.

So why does the FAA request data from pilots about near misses from drones? The regulators are aware of the sight limitations of pilots and the susceptibility of eyesight to false perceptions.

While the data set released by the FAA on February 23, 2017 included many false positives, the numbers over time may result in better reliability. After the novelty (and anxiety about) UAVs decrease, these reports may signify relevant trends. The mere fact, that this release of information—accompanied by a carefully crafted disclaimer—had zero actionable incidents, does not result in a conclusion that the FAA should stop tracking the near midair incidents reported.

The FAA has moved from being a reactive to proactive organization by collecting and analyzing meta data to identify problems. By looking at small numbers and thoughtfully assessing them, aviation (industry is included in this new approach) has been reducing risk. The tips of icebergs have proven to be good predictors of the underlying risks. 

tip of the faa iceberg

Reports of near midairs between aircraft have shown in the past their value to improving ATC procedures, technology and cockpit awareness. PERHAPS IN A YEAR OR TWO THESE “DENIGRATED” DRONE/AIRCRAFT REPORTS WILL DEMONSTRATE THEIR MERIT. Say, for example, as drones become the preferred vehicles for distribution?

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4 Comments on "Drone Near Miss Data should not be categorically dismissed"

  1. The very first photo you used totally diminishes your articles credibility. That video you borrowed the screen capture from was all CGI. This never happened.

    My father was a pilot. My brother in law is a commercial pilot for Delta. My business partner is a pilot. I fly drones and qualified for a 333 and got a 107.

    I agree with Goglia. The next step to make airspace even safer is coming with the DJI Matrice M200 which will carry an ADS-B receiver. This is the first step in integrating drones more tightly and safely with the airspace. Tech is moving fast and will take care of any potential hazards. With an ADS-B receiver my guess is that obtaining a Part 107 waiver through the FAA will become much easier .

    The last drone sighting I heard of was in a rainstorm at 6000 feet by a jet flying at over 200 knots on approach. Sorry, not a drone.

  2. The problem with the FAA collecting the drone sightings and then reporting it to the media and general public without vetting or performing any analysis is irresponsible. Legislation and regulations are being crafted by this data, which is in essence garbage. And as stated in the article…GIGOLO.

    Until the FAA starts analyzing the data, rather doing a data dump, the FAA should refrain from collecting and distributing garbage.

  3. To Matt– quote from the article and from the FAA indicating that the FAA did indeed vet and analyze the “data dump”:

    Although the data contain several reports of pilots claiming drone strikes on their aircraft, to date the FAA has not verified any collision between a civil aircraft and a civil drone. Every investigation has found the reported collisions were either birds, impact with other items such as wires and posts, or structural failure not related to colliding with an unmanned aircraft.”

  4. Most of them ARE FAKE or the pilots don’t know a bird from a hole in the ground.

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