The FAA is Way Overstating the Risk Drones Pose to Airliners


In December, the Federal Aviation Administration issued a strict set of guidelines for small drones operating in U.S. airspace including a requirement that hobbyists register their drones with the government. 

Any drone weighing more than 250 grams—or roughly half a pound—must be piloted by a registered drone operator. Additionally, the new rules restricted certain areas from drone flights and required that the pilots keep them in sight at all times. 

The reason, according to the FAA: safety. Aside from the potential danger to people and property on the ground, small drones—even those weighing just a few pounds—are seen as a potential danger to civilian and commercial aviation. An uptick in reports by commercial airline pilots of “near-misses” with drones bolstered that argument. 

But a study released Monday by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University suggests the FAA is overstating the risk by small drones to manned aircraft. In fact, it’s way overblowing it. 

The study found that, based on existing data, an incident in which an aircraft is damaged by a drone weighing 4.5 pounds should happen once every 1.87 million years of drone flight time. An injury or fatality? About 100 times less likely than that.

It’s only fair to note that there exists no real data on exactly how damaging a collision with a drone might be for, say, a 737 jetliner. But the FAA has decades of data on detailing aircraft collisions with birds, and it’s from that data that the Mercatus researchers draw their conclusions. 

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