The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) receives dozens of uncrewed aircraft sighting reports every month. With incident reports coming in from pilots, citizens, and law enforcement officials alike, the FAA’s database of drone and unidentified aircraft sightings runs into thousands of Mandatory Occurrence Reports (MORs) today. So, now, an enterprising online publication is featuring these reports in an interactive map of the United States – thus making it easier for people to zoom into their neighborhood for details or explore hotspots of sightings more intimately.
To create the interactive map, The War Zone’s Adam Kehoe and Marc Cecotti combed through approximately 10,400 incident reports published online via a number of Excel spreadsheets. The data spans from November 2014 to December 2020.
Now, the FAA doesn’t offer too many details about how the reports are collected, or how they are ultimately selected for the public dataset. What is clear though is that a MOR must be generated whenever a pilot reports “unauthorized UAS activity or authorized UAS activity that is conducted in an unsafe or hazardous manner.”
Exploring the dataset
One of the biggest challenges before the reporters was to assign approximate locations using the city and state information provided in the report because MORs do not contain precise location information. Also, as Kehoe explains:
There are a large number of spelling errors and other issues in the original data, so not all locations have been matched to date. Currently, our mapping system has geocoded 9566 reports. We are working to resolve the location information on the remaining reports.
Nonetheless, you can use the interactive map to search for incidents either by keywords or by filtering a minimum altitude. Also, since drone incidents around strategic infrastructure are of special interest, the authors have marked the locations of active nuclear reactors in the United States on the map to help users better find incidents.
The degree of severity of the incidents in the dataset expectedly varies dramatically, the reporters note, adding:
Many of the reports describe common but nonetheless concerning safety hazards posed by errant recreational drones flown at low altitudes. Buried within the reports are also much more concerning incidents involving aircraft operating near sensitive facilities, such as nuclear installations and military bases, or at highly peculiar, and illegal, altitudes. The reports also vary considerably in terms of the type of aircraft described. Beyond the expected menagerie of commercial and recreational drones, a number of unusual vehicles are mentioned, including some balloon-drone hybrids, and a small smattering of references to what pilots described as UFOs.
Interactive map of drone safety incidents in the US
You can explore the map by either clicking here or on the picture below:
Meanwhile, a summary of some of the most bizarre and interesting cases can be found here. The reporters plan to make updates and improvements to the system over time.
How can I report a drone safety incident to the FAA?
Glad you asked. The FAA now uses NASA’s Aviation Safety Reporting System to encourage confidential, voluntary, and non-punitive reporting of drone safety incidents. The database not just allows you to submit reports, but you can also view other submitted incidents, hopefully, to learn from the mistakes of others. Colleague Scott Simmie has covered this reporting system in detail here and here.
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