The FAA wants to regulate drones, claiming that those weighing as little as 250 grams pose a threat to flying aircraft. Eli Dourado and Samuel Hammond used the FAA’s own database of aircraft-bird strikes to estimate the risk posed by drones weighing less that 2 kilograms. They found: “one damaging incident will occur no more than every 1.87 million years of 2kg UAS flight time” and that “collisions that cause an injury or fatality to passengers on board an aircraft will occur […] once every 187 million years of operation.”
In December 2015, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced a new interim final rule that for the first time imposed regulation on the operation of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) as model aircraft. In the name of a safe national airspace, the new regulations require operators of drones weighing more than 250g (0.55 pounds) to register with the agency.
25 years of data from the FAA’s wildlife strike database shows that the most most serious reported incidents typically involved large flocks of birds. Although aircraft collide with birds many thousands of times per year, only a tiny fraction of those collisions result in damage to the aircraft, much less human injuries or deaths. Since the addition of UAS to the airspace is similar in many respects to an increase in the bird population, we conclude that the risk to the airspace caused by small drones (for example, weighing up to 2kg, or 4.41 pounds) flying in solitary formation is minimal.