03 September, 2015 in , ,

Cloudy FAA data skews drone threat

A UFO sighting 51,000 feet above Washington is not something one might expect to read about in a database linked to a news release by the Federal Aviation Administration titled: “Pilot reports of close calls with drones soar in 2015.”

But it’s in there.


Among other incidents, a large Predator-style drone crashed near a residential area, according to the FAA database.

And a drone was hovering in unauthorized airspace close to a crime scene being investigated by the Inglewood Police Department in California.

All are striking events.

But they’re not about close calls between drones and manned aircraft like planes and helicopters.
According to the Academy of Model Aeronautics, a nonprofit group that has tried to educate new drone users about safe flying standards, the FAA missed a chance to responsibly inform the public about the possible risks that drones may pose when the agency released the database.

“There is no doubt that a number of these incidents (in the database) are real safety issues that need to be addressed,” said Richard Hanson, the AMA’s government and regulatory affairs director.

“But we would like to see the FAA analysis filter those (non-close calls) out and not embellish the issue or put out information that has the potential of causing public concern,” Hanson said.

“Not that they shouldn’t be concerned, but we don’t want to inflate that concern beyond what we are dealing with,” he said.

More than 700 incidents

Less than two weeks after an Aug. 12 news release, the FAA posted a database on its website with sightings reported since mid-November of unmanned aircraft systems, also known as drones, or sometimes referred to as UAS.

The database contains more than 700 incidents in the U.S. through Aug. 20.

On July 24, a pilot flying a small jet known as an Embraer 135 reported seeing a UFO flying over the U.S. capital at 51,000 feet, far from the plane.

The UFO, or unidentified flying object, was moving west to east just above the horizon with “steady light illumination,” according to the FAA’s description of the sighting. It was “fast moving” and “gone within 5 minutes.”

A few months before, on March 25, a drone capable of carrying missiles crashed about 4 miles east of Wilsona Gardens, Calif., which is about 25 miles south of Edwards Air Force Base.

In capital letters, the FAA description of the incident reads: “PRELIM INFO FROM FAA OPS: WILSONA GARDENS, CA/UAS INCIDENT/1232P/E10 REPORTED A MQ1C UAS CRASHED 4 E OF WILSONA GARDENS. NO INJURIES ON GROUND.”

The MQ-1C, made by General Atomics Aeronautical, is “an extremely reliable UAS,” according to the company’s website.

Known as the Gray Eagle, it can fly up to 29,000 feet, and can carry multiple payloads, including laser equipment, radar and four Hellfire missiles.

The U.S. Department of Defense’s media staff could not be reached for comment through an email containing the FAA description of the incident.

Another incident in California happened Aug. 18, when the LA Police Department reported a drone.
According to the FAA’s description, the Inglewood Police Department was working a crime scene at a gas station about 2 miles from a runway at Los Angeles International Airport. The LAPD was told that the drone activity was not authorized and had to come down, according to the FAA.

The LAPD apparently was told by Inglewood that the drone was privately owned.

LAPD media officials did not immediately know about the incident and asked that a request for information be submitted in writing.

Inglewood police officials did not return calls Friday.

What’s a “close call?”

FAA spokesman Les Dorr said he could not provide more information about the UFO, military drone or crime-scene incidents.

“What’s in the database is everything we have,” Dorr said.

“The MQ-1C aircraft was likely operated by the military. Suggest you contact DoD. For the August 18 incident, it appears, LAPD, Inglewood PD or the L.A. Sheriff’s Dept. might have more information,” he said in an email.

The Aug. 12 FAA news release titled “Pilot reports of close calls with drones soar in 2015” led to reporting by several newspapers.

Asked whether it would be fair to say that the FAA should have better vetted the data to give a better assessment of the “close call” risks UAS pose to manned aircraft, Dorr said:

“The definition of a near mid-air collision for all aircraft is within 500 feet vertical, ½ mile lateral distance.

“Since the majority of the pilot reports can’t be verified — the drones typically don’t show up on radar nor is the operator identified — we can’t say for certain what the actual separation distance was. The use of the phrase ‘close calls’ is simply part of a news headline; there is no regulatory definition of ‘close call,’ as such.

AMA officials, responding to Dorr’s comment, said that these types of incidents are not directly informative about the risks that drones may pose to manned aircraft such as planes and helicopters.

“It is irresponsible for the FAA to assert in the media that ‘close calls’ happened when the agency admits that they don’t have a clear regulatory definition of what that means.

“It needs to have a definition or at least be more precise with its language when issuing these reports.
“If the FAA hasn’t been able to verify what these are, they shouldn’t refer to them as close calls,” Hanson said.

Source:  http://www.journalnow.com/news/local/cloudy-faa-data-skews-drone-threat/article_80e10858-3fbb-51ba-827c-e5fb55a26534.html

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