US Study finds drone encounters on the rise

Image: Flickr | Björn CC BY 2.0

How dangerous are drones to manned aircraft? A study by researchers at Bard College, in New York State, US, has found the reported incidents have increased rapidly over the past two years.

The researchers found 70 incidents in the first seven months of 2014, and 585 during the first seven months of 2015.

The study reviewed 922 incidents involving drones and manned aircraft in the US from December 2013 to September 2015. It found that 327 incidents or 35 per cent of the cases could be described as close encounters, defined as drones coming within 150 metres of aircraft.

In 158 of those cases, a drone came within 60 metres of an aircraft, and in 28 cases, the pilot had to manoeuvre to avoid a collision. There were 90 reported close encounters between a commercial jet aircraft and a drone, and 38 involving helicopters.

In the other 594 sightings, drones were spotted near or within manned aircraft flight paths but did not pose an immediate danger of collision.

The study found that incidents were more likely to involve multi-rotor unmanned aircraft than fixed-wing drones, and predominantly occurred far above the Federal Aviation Administration’s 400-foot ceiling for unmanned aircraft, often within five miles of an airport

Study co-author Dan Gettingger said, ‘Our hope is that this study can help engender a collaborative dialogue among stakeholders working on this issue.’


  1. It’s only a matter of time. I expect most of the reports were made by commercial aircraft. Unless there’s a collision with resulting damage I speculate a lot of GA pilots will not bother to report unless they are already talking with ATC on an IFR flight plan or a US “VFR Flight Following” tether. Two summers ago a small airport in Washington State experienced incidents of RC fixed wing model aircraft flying over the airport and in one or two instances over the runway. While the local firefighting dispatch center and airport manager were notified, I don’t know if a report went up the line to the the FAA.


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