DMA response to recent Aerospace journal study on drone technology

A paper published earlier this summer in the journal Aerospace contains so many obvious errors, and so few verifiable facts, that it cannot be taken as a serious study of drone technology.

It cites just a single example of an incident involving a drone, when a British Airways flight claimed it encountered a drone at Heathrow Airport. Yet British aviation authorities believe that event involved a plastic bag, not a drone.

The researchers claim to have searched 19 data sources to find 152 cases of drone accidents or incidents from 2006 to 2015, yet the FAA alone receives more than 100 reports of drone sightings every month.  The most rigorous analysis to date of those reports found that only a tiny fraction indicated a “near miss” or “close call,” and many of them appear to have been operated safely. The authors acknowledge finding their examples through “convenience sampling” with “no random sub-sampling.” That seems to guarantee a skewed data set, but since that data is not included in the paper, there is no way to know how they chose “accidents and incidents” to support their conclusions.

There has never been a confirmed collision between a civilian drone and a manned aircraft. No one has ever been killed by a civilian drone. While the authors call for more government regulations to ensure drone safety, regulators themselves have taken the opposite position. Since small civilian drones have a much smaller risk profile than manned aircraft, they have encouraged innovators to develop promising technological improvements rather than subject every new drone model to a bureaucratic approval process.

Our members have collectively sold many thousands of drones that have flown millions of flight hours. In our experience as drone manufacturers as well as pilots, we find this paper’s conclusions implausible. Equipment failures do occur from time to time, and we are constantly innovating technological improvements to prevent them. But problems with drones are far more likely to occur because of operator error, which is why we support educational efforts to ensure all drone pilots learn to fly their craft safely and responsibly.