The Federal Aviation Administration this week spoke at a conference of a drone that nearly collided with a US Airways airplane in Tallahassee, Fla.
“He (the US Airways pilot) reported what appeared to be a small, remotely piloted aircraft at approximately 2,300 feet in the air,” the FAA’s Jim Williams said during the Small Unmanned Systems Business Exposition in San Francisco.
The incident reportedly happened March 22 near Tallahassee Regional Airport.
A CNN anchor called it “a near nightmare.” The FAA’s UAS head Jim Williams referred to this type of accident as “perilous.”
But where’s the rest of the story? The data to back it up? The facts? Or just something that Williams said.
Anytime there is a near miss, which could include a collision with another airplane or that vehicle flying too close to ground obstacles, both the pilot and air traffic controller traditionally files a voluntary near miss report through the Aviation Safety Reporting System database, which has been managed by NASA since 1988.
“It’s one of the best safety databases in the entire world in terms of accuracy of data and reporting,” pilot Davis Hunt said.
The thing is, this drone collision report is nowhere to be found in the ASRS database, something drone lawyer Brendan Schulman noted on his Twitter account.
Pilots voluntarily report to avoid adverse consequences for inadvertent safety violations, providing themselves with a certain degree of immunity from enforcement. The database is comprehensive, and Schulman said he would expect an airline pilot to file a report in the event of a near-miss.
“It feels like a manufactured story to me, Hunt said. “If there are no facts to support it, then where are they getting these statements from? In every other incident in US aviation, there’s always the ability to fall back to ASRS to find these reports and there’s absolutely nothing there.”
Many media reports are viewing a collision with a drone (which weigh on average 2 pounds, though there is no evidence as to what type of drone this was) as catastrophic, comparing it to the 2009 collision of a US Airways flight that collided with a flock of birds, which got sucked into the engines.
“If it hit anywhere in the fuselage, the plane would do a precautionary landing,” Hunt said. “Even if the engine were to fail, you wouldn’t have a catastrophic failure.”
If a plane loses one engine in flight, pilots can fly the airline to the nearest airport and land it safely, he said.
“In that case, you had a flock of geese and it just so happened that one bird went into one side and another bird went into another side,” he said.
Unless you were dealing with a strike of UAVs, the probability of UAVs getting into both engines is essentially zero.
“There’s just something that smells fishy about this story,” Hunt said. “I just don’t buy it.”