Author Background

Cheng Wang is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Aviation at Minnesota State University, Mankato. Dr. Wang received a Master in Aviation and Aerospace Management and a Ph.D. in Technology from Purdue University. Her research areas of interest include aviation safety, airport operations, and unmanned aircraft systems sightings.

Sarah Hubbard is an Associate Professor of Aviation Management in the School of Aviation and Transportation Technology at Purdue University. Dr. Hubbard is a licensed civil engineer with research interests related to airports, including operations, multimodal applications, and the integration of new technologies.


This paper presents the characteristics of unmanned aircraft system (UAS) sightings and discusses these characteristics in the context of airport safety using airport operational data. An unmanned aircraft in the vicinity of a commercial airport may be a potential threat to aircraft operations, and may result in operational and economic impacts if it causes an airport delay or shutdown. To ensure a record of UAS activity, the Federal Aviation Administration collects and publishes a UAS Sightings Report. This study analyzed UAS sightings and found that they vary by time of year and time of day, with more sightings in the summer and during the daytime. While all kinds of aircraft may be affected, pilots of general aviation aircraft report more UAS sightings, although overall only 3.3 percent of sightings required the pilot to take evasive action. Only 9.8 percent of UAS sightings occurred at or below 400 feet and 57 percent occurred within five miles of an airport, and sightings are more likely to be reported close to large and medium hub airports. States with a large population (such as California and Florida) and airports in big cities have more UAS sightings. The airports with the most UAS sightings are LaGuardia (LGA), Los Angeles (LAX), John F. Kennedy (JFK), and O’Hare (ORD).