Aviation Safety in America:
Under-Reporting Bias of Unidentified Aerial
Phenomena and Recommended Solutions
National Aviation Reporting Center
on Anomalous Phenomena
Copyright NARCAP 2004
(Page 1 of 3)
has validated the existence of phenomena
that are characterized by unusual airborne
lighting displays, some are related to tectonic
or geo-magnetic activity, others are a result
of weather induced electrical activity,
solar and meteor activity, etc. Tentatively
identified examples include:blue jets, sprites,
various lightning phenomena, and so-called
"earthlights" and "earthquake
aerial phenomena regularly documented by
research scientists over the Hessdalen Valley,
Norway and over other locations including
several in North America are even less understood.
Additionally, reliable observations from U.S. government and official
international sources include visual observations
and radar contacts with unusual airborne
physical properties and behaviors of some
of these lights and objects are not clearly
understood and in some cases their existence
has been only recently documented. These
unusual lights and objects may have electrical
properties that may affect avionics and
electrical systems. They can appear to be
very unusual to observers. Some of these
phenomena are quite dynamic. US aviators
have described some encounters with these
phenomena as near mid-air collisions. Though
these observations and incidents do occur
they are under-reported. The US aviation
system is not investigating these reports
to mitigate these potential hazards.
issue of valid U.S. pilot reports of Unidentified
Aerial Phenomena (UAP) and the seeming lack
of attention given to these reports by the
aviation system is a complicated one. There
is a longstanding bias in place that severely
inhibits the reporting and investigation
of UAP incidents. This bias stifles open
discussion of UAP amongst aircrews, management,
safety administrators, and the researchers
who try to acquire information on this important
incidents can affect aviation safety. Some
UAP incidents include very close pacing,
and passes that have been described by aircrews
as near mid-air collisions. Some UAP incidents
also include transient and/or permanent
electro-magnetic effects on avionics systems.
The distraction to aircrews caused by some
phenomena can have a direct effect on cockpit
resource management (CRM). In some cases
the intensity of light emanated by UAP during
a close pass can disrupt night vision. In
some cases, passengers and crew have been
injured by emergency control inputs implemented
by aircrews to avoid what is perceived as
a potential collision with UAP.
UAP encounters involve ground-based radars
that provide verification of the presence
of uncorrelated targets near aircraft that
are reporting visual observations of UAP.
Often these observations and incidents go
unreported even though these "radar/visual"
events involve significant numbers of witnesses
including aircrews and passengers, radar
operators, air traffic controllers and supervisors.
confusion surrounding these incidents and
observations is evident in the air traffic
control tapes that regularly record all
transmissions and communication between
the control tower, aircraft, and peripheral
pilots are supported by post-mission debriefings
as well as specific radars that continually
examine their activities and occasionally
capture the presence of UAP. In turn, these
observations are protected from public scrutiny
by secrecy oaths taken by military officers
and enlisted men. Even so, through the Freedom
of Information Act some of these incidents
and observations have become public record.
This information seldom travels directly
back to the aviation safety planning community.
upon this large and constantly growing body
of data it is unreasonable to conclude that
conservative, responsible individuals don"t
see UAP. The image of conservative responsibility
offered by the airlines may contribute to
an environment that is not conducive to
reporting unusual observations or incidents.
commercial and private pilots report incidents
and observations to the various government
run incident databases, but those incidents
and observations tend not to be actively
examined for their effects upon aviation
safety by the various government and civil
organizations charged with aviation safety.
In fact, when one reviews the various incident
databases it becomes apparent that there
is no way to report these types of incidents
on the reporting forms or in the process.
Reporters are left to their own devices
to explain their experience and so pilots
and air controllers may simply choose not
to do so.
reluctance to report and investigate safety-related
UAP incidents has its roots in several significant
historical events. These events have served
to create, or have significantly contributed
to, an atmosphere of fear. Fear of ridicule,
fear of having one's competence questioned,
fear of losing one's career, fear of government
reprisal, even fear of the phenomena itself
are all cited as reasons why pilots are
not officially reporting many observations,
close pacing and near mid-air collisions
with UAP. These fears are unknowingly amplified
by the lack of attention given to these
incidents and observations by the US aviation
incidents are being reported globally. Private
research into these phenomena is ongoing.
Official public efforts to investigate them
are being conducted by several nations.
Case files have been acquired by the National
Aviation Reporting Center on Anomalous Phenomena,
NARCAP, from several official sources including;
the Center for the Study of Anomalous Aerial
Phenomena or CEFAA of Chile and Service
Expertise for Rare Atmospheric Phenomena
or SEPRA of France support the contention
that from a global perspective these incidents
occur frequently, though frequency
of occurrence should not be a primary factor
in determining safety concerns.
Pilot Commentary Reflecting an Under-Reporting Bias
many of the incidents listed in the ASRS
database are consistent with those referred
to as UFO, aviation professionals are unlikely
to choose the phrase UFO to describe their
observation. This is possibly a result of
the objective phrase "unidentified
flying object" being commonly associated
with extraterrestrial spacecraft.
many interviews with pilots and other aviation
professionals one has the definite impression
that they prefer to use apparently less
stigma-inducing words like "unknown
traffic, traffic, balloon, unidentified
object, or unknown aircraft" even though
the description of the incident itself is
consistent with those commonly described
as "UFO". Given that the "object"
in question was airborne one might argue
that Unidentified Object and Unidentified
Flying Object are the same thing. Whether
one calls them UAP, UFO, Anomalous Aerial
Phenomena, Rare Atmospheric Phenomena, Unidentified
Object, Unknown Aircraft, etc. one is speaking
of the same thing. Whatever it is, it is
outside of the pilot's experience.
choose their words carefully to avoid being
associated with a UFO sighting even though
that is exactly what they may have experienced.
It is appropriate to ask "Why?"
receives reports from pilots and aviation
professionals via email and other sources.
During one week in the summer of 2001 NARCAP
received reports from a number of current
and former pilots, the majority of whom
were commercial airmen. A review of some
of the commentary from these pilots who
have seen UAP includes the following:
didn't say anything. We figured nobody would
return to my domicile, JFK, I reported our
sighting to the proper authorities. I was
shortly visited by two federal investigators
who evidently thought I was hallucinating
for one of them stated he had seen spaceships
while fishing in Great South Bay and was
quite obviously trying to prove that I was
Pan Am (ret.)
must have been Huge! We were all due back
at JFK about the same time two days later
so I waited in the crew ready room to talk
to them. None of them wanted to talk! They
were afraid management would take them off
of flying status and have them tested for
booze and drugs. The story never came out!"
Engineer, TWA (ret.)
group of lights in the air appeared at our
12o'clock position. I called departure control
and asked them if they had any traffic in
that area. When they came back and said
NO, what do you see, I said no, just checking.
For at that time when a pilot reported seeing
a UFO he was in a lot of trouble."
Ozark Airlines (ret.)
and Flight crew saw something (in broad
daylight) that did things that no known
aircraft could do without killing any living
thing inside. I will only give sketchy details
to protect the privacy of the rest of the
crew. If you are interested, and all information
(is) kept anonymous, contact me. I will
not present myself for public ridicule."
to NARCAP of UAP observations and incidents
are riddled with this type of commentary.
Over and over again conservative, responsible
airmen are heard to say that they fear that
their competency will be questioned, that
their careers will suffer, that they will
be humiliated for reporting their observations.
A serious result of these fears is inaccurate
or incomplete data regarding potential hazards.
Commercial Aircrew Survey Results Indicate Under-Reporting Bias
in 2001 NARCAP conducted a survey of a US
commercial air carrier. The results were
published as NARCAP Technical Report 5,
Haines and Roe, 2001. This paper presents
the results of a confidential aircrew survey
presented to 298 currently rated and flying
commercial pilots employed by a U. S. airline.
a total of 70 completed surveys (23.5%)
were returned to NARCAP within a 35 day
period suggesting a high degree of general
interest in this subject. Twelve questions
were asked, most of which dealt with the
possibility of past sightings of unidentified
aerial phenomena (UAP) and how these pilots
dealt with the experience afterward. Forty
respondents were Captains (mean = 9,130
flight hrs.) and thirty were First Officers
(mean = 4,799 flight hrs.).
number of interesting things were learned
from this survey. It was found that of the
sixteen pilots (23% of total) who said they
had seen something they could not identify
in flight only four (25% of the sixteen)
reported it to their company or to a government
authority and one of these pilots (a First
Officer) who saw a UAP felt that it was
a threat to aviation safety and he did not
variety of reasons were given for not reporting
their UAP sightings. They included: not
knowing whom to report it to or how to do
so, judging the event to be unimportant,
judging the phenomenon to be a military
test, and (being) just too strange to report.
Review of Aviation Incident Databases for UAP data
FAA, the NTSB and NASA maintain aviation
safety related incident databases. A keyword
search of the FAA Incident/Accident Database
and the NTSB Near Mid-Air Collision database
revealed many incidents using keywords words
like "unidentified aircraft" or "unidentified
more incidents are evident when one searches
the NASA administrated Aviation Safety Reporting
System Database, a voluntary, confidential
database. It employs a rigorous identification
system to validate the credentials of the
reporter while protecting his/her identity
from employers and the FAA. This database
contains over 332 thousand incident reports.
Below are the results of a keyword search
conducted by Dr. Richard F. Haines in 2000
using phrases that may mask a UAP encounter
and the number of cases that carry those
|"Near miss, unknown aircraft, unidentified object"
|"Near miss, unknown aircraft, unknown object & Primary problem area
= flight crea humar factors"
(This category can refer to difficulties
caused by control inputs made by the
Crew to avoid collision.)
|"In-flight encounter/other & primary problem area+ aircraft and their
(This can refer to transient or permanent
component or system failures that
are common effects of close encounters
|"Flying Saucer, flying disk"
|"Unidentified Aerial Phenomena"
it is important to emphasize the 973 cases
where problems arose in the "flight
crew human factors" category under
the keyword search "Near miss, unknown
aircraft, unknown object" as well as
the 125 cases involving aircraft subsystems
also described as a "near miss".
It is also important to acknowledge that
over five thousand potential UAP cases were
described as a "near miss". Have
there been any cases involving these factors
that the crews were not able to resolve
and that resulted in catastrophe?
that many encounters involve unidentified
lights rather than unidentified objects
and that the reporting forms used by the
ASRS, the FAA and the NTSB do not have categories
for unidentified light(s) or objects, it
is entirely possible that some of these
data are inaccurate and that the cause of
the incident is not being accurately reported.
It is suggested that these reporting forms
should be modified to accommodate a wider
variety of observations.
the NASA ASRS data, potential UAP cases
represent less than 1% of all cases reported.
It is important to remember that the ASRS
database is one of three Federal aviation
incident databases. The incidents listed
in the ASRS system should be considered
as the minimum number of incidents
because not all incidents are reported,
and some are reported to other databases.
When one considers the results of the NARCAP
Aircrew Survey it is reasonable to expect
the numbers to increase if pilots are encouraged
to report these incidents.
Term "UFO" Contributes to Under-Reporting
term "UFO" is has changed in meaning
over the last 50 years. Originally it was
a term coined by the USAF that was intended
to bring objectivity to the discussion of
unidentified aerial phenomena.. Now it is
synonomous with more subjective words like
"flying saucer", "alien spacecraft",
and "extraterrestrial intelligence".
is clear that these terms carry a stigma
that inhibits aviation professionals from
discussing observations of unusual phenomena.
Even when reports do not involve an alleged
UFO the stigma is strong enough to curtail
discussions of observations or incidents
involving unusual lights.
have been various attempts to address this
matter of nomenclature. The official research
group of Chile has chosen the more correct
term of "Anomalous Aerial Phenomena",
as have other official research groups.
The French research effort at CNES refers
to these phenomena as "Rare Atmospheric
has chosen the term "Unidentified Aerial
Phenomena" or UAP to more correctly
address the scope of descriptions and to
more accurately describe the group of observations
collectively considered to be anomalous.
term UAP is defined as follows:
unidentified aerial phenomenon (UAP)
is the visual stimulus that provokes
a sighting report of an object or
light seen in the sky, the appearance
and/or flight dynamics of which do
not suggest a logical, conventional
flying object and which remains unidentified
after close scrutiny of all available
evidence by persons who are technically
capable of making both a full technical
identification as well as a common-sense
identification, if one is possible.
(Haines, Pp. 13-22, 1980)
definition clearly excludes most of the
prosaic explanations one hears about to
explain UAP including rare atmospheric phenomena
(e.g., sprites; sheet and ball lightning;
mirages, sub-suns, etc.). The residual of
cases that remain after all known physical
phenomena are considered and rejected truly
confront the scientific mind with mysteries
and challenges in spite of the fact that
up to now science has shown no genuine or
lasting interest in them. (McDonald, 1968).
Management Contributes to Under-Reporting
investigative journalist Leslie Kean aproached
an influential elected member of a prominent
U.S. Aviation union with questions about
UAP and pilots, his reply was "If these
things were happening don't you think I
would know about it?" After only a
cursory review of Dr. Haines paper, Aviation
Safety in America- A Previously Neglected
Factor, he dismissed the matter outright.
In fact, it was the question "Why didn't
he know about it?" that motivated the
author to write this paper.
prominent aviation safety organization also
dismissed the information outright while
offering no reason other than simply asserting
that incidents involving UAP and aviation
safety do not occur. It was clear that they
didn't even read the report.
is reasonable to suspect that a bias against
even reading the material exists and represents
a collective irrationality that serves to
stifle reporting and investigations.
are voices of reason in this endeavor. For
example, both Brian E. Smith - Chief of
the Aviation Safety Program Office at NASA
Ames Research Center and Linda Connell -
Director of the FAA-NASA Aviation Safety
Reporting System have publicly acknowledged
that reports of UAP encounters which effect
aviation safety deserve a thorough examination.
Clearly, mitigation of all potential sources
of near-miss incidents and accidents should
be the driving force in resolving these
Historical Events Have Contributed to Under-Reporting Bias
major contributing factor to bias against
reporting UAP incidents and observations
is apparent in the history of attempts to
address the UAP problem. UAP are considered
a matter of security by the US military
and intelligence community and no data regarding
UAP incidents have been made available to
aviation professionals in the commercial
aviation industry for nearly 50 years. Though
detailed case files have been recently released
by the US government, none of these cases
have been reviewed within the context of
the US Air Force was founded in September
of 1947 it immediately undertook an intelligence-gathering
program to determine the nature of UFOs.
To this end it established specific units
within Air Technical Intelligence Command
to acquire data and evidence regarding UFOs.
July of 1952 there was a series of UFO manifestations
over Washington D.C. and in the restricted
airspace over the White House and Capitol
buildings. Thousands including military
and commercial pilots and radar operators
witnessed these incidents. The incidents
were quite dramatic and persisted for several
weeks. The Air Force attempted to explain
these observations as "spurious radar
targets" caused by a temperature inversion.
However, the photographs of the "spurious
radar targets" over the Nation's capitol
building that were published that week in
the Washington Post do not support that
explanation. It has been since determined
that the weather conditions at the time
of the observations did not support the
conclusions of the US Air Force.
than a year later, in 1953, the CIA convened
the Robertson Panel to review UFO reports.
A panel of scientists and military experts
reviewed several case files and films of
UFOs. While they came to no definitive conclusions
about the nature and source of UFOs, they
did decide that the subject needed to be
"stripped of its special status"
to protect the public from "hysteria".
Air Force Regulation 200-2, dated August
12, 1954 signed by General Nathan Twining
"Headquarters USAF will release summaries of evaluated
data (of UFO),
which will inform the public on
this subject. In response to local
inquiries, it is permissible to
inform news media representatives
on UFOB's when the object is positively
identified as a familiar object.
For those objects which
are not explainable, only the fact
that ATIC will analyze the data
is worthy of release, due to the
many unknowns involved."(italics
UFO information was forwarded to the Commander,
Air Defense Command; the nearest Air Defense
Division; the Commander, Air Technical Intelligence
Center; and the Director of Intelligence
at Air Force Headquarters, and some cases
were forwarded on to the CIA, the NSA, and
the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
1954 officials from the US military and
from the Airline industry held a press conference
announcing a Joint Army, Navy Air force
publication (JANAP 146) outlining Communications
Instructions for Reporting Visual Intelligence
Sightings (CIRVIS). The US did not have
the satellite capability to fly over the
Soviet Union and provide advance warning
of an impending attack. Commercial airline
pilots were considered an integral part
of a forward observation corps.
146 and CIRVIS were instituted as a mandatory
reporting system that eventually included
both American and Canadian commercial and
general aviation. All unusual observations
were to be forwarded through the CIRVIS
system to the US Air Force. Once an observation
had been reported, the reporting aviator
was obligated not to disclose the report
to the press or public under
threat of fine and imprisonment.
JANAP 146/CIRVIS was initiated to acquire
intelligence related reports regarding unfamiliar
aircraft, formations of unfamiliar aircraft,
missiles, and UFOBs.
1958, 450 airline pilots signed a petition
to publicly protest the JANAP 146 order.
Many of these pilots claimed that the Air
Force investigators had an agenda to debunk
their reports and that they had been warned
not to disclose their observations to the
public under penalty of a prison term and
Concurrently, from 1947 to 1969 the Air Force conducted an investigation
into UFOs under several code names including
Projects Sign, Grudge and Bluebook. Reports
of unusual observations, including military
and civil aviation reports, were forwarded
to Air Technical Intelligence Command for
review by air force investigators and civilian
contractors. Project Bluebook closed in
1969 with assurances that UFOs were not
a threat to national security, that there
was no evidence that they were extraterrestrial
vehicles and that further research was unnecessary.
The Condon Report, commissioned by the US Air Force and undertaken by
the University of Colorado concurred. Since
that time the science community and the
US Air Force has acknowledged the existence
of unusual atmospheric phenomena like sprites,
blue sprites, ball lightning, blue jets,
etc., many of which were not known at the
time of Project Blue Book and the Condon
report though some of these phenomena were
certainly reported as UFOs. That acknowledgement
seems to be contradictory to the conclusions
of Blue Book and the Condon Report. In the
face of well-documented incidents and observations
of UAP that continue to this date, neither
of these reports can be considered definitive.
1977, after satellite monitoring of the
Soviet Union was implemented, JANAP 146E
was released. This version relaxed the mandatory
reporting requirement and suggested instructions
to report if the reporter felt that the
observation represented a matter of national
fact is that from 1947 to 1977 and even
to the present, the data has flowed directly
away from civil aviation and into the restricted
arena of the military/intelligence domain
via JANAP 146, the CIRVIS reporting system,
Projects Sign, Grudge and Blue Book and
through other data collection programs and
When the JANAP 146 order was relaxed, commercial
and private pilots found themselves with
no specific instructions regarding these
unusual incidents and observations. When
the various databases of the FAA, NTSB and
NASA were established, the categories of
observation for UFO/UAP events were not
Reasons for this exclusion may have included
personal opinions and beliefs, a general
lack of experience with the phenomena or
even the lack of knowledge regarding the
existence of unidentified aerial phenomena,
or perhaps it was the understandable conclusion
that the matter was being handled elsewhere
(i.e. the military/intelligence community).
Popular culture and conspiracy theorists
have muddied the waters by supporting an
environment of fear. All of these factors
have contributed to a bias against reporting
honest, legitimate incidents involving UAP.
the close of Project Blue Book in 1969 there
have been thousands of UAP/UFO reports made
by military and civil aviators, air traffic
controllers and citizens representing all
walks of life. These reports have come from
almost every nation on Earth. Examples of
UAP incidents occuring after the close of
Project Blue Book can be found on the websites
of both the National Security Agency and
the Central Intelligence Agency.
Currently the US Air Force does not investigate UFOs. The USAF does receive
UFO reports through CIRVIS, and through
the Air Route Traffic Control Centers (ARTCC)
system and NORAD as well as from its own
pilots and air controllers. The question
regarding whether or not other government
agencies study UAP/UFO reports remains unresolved
though there are no known public agencies
involved in UFO investigation.
importantly, there has never
been a formal inquiry into these observations
and incidents by the US aviation system.
The majority of the cases that have been
declassified have been made available in
the last decade and the information has
simply not been compiled in a fashion that
can be examined by the aviation community.
are probably very good reasons for the military
and intelligence community to acquire and
develop UAP data. However, the aviation
community is directly affected by these
phenomena. Those aviation professionals
who witness UAP or experience safety related
UAP encounters deserve respect and support
from all levels of the US aviation system
and the scientific community.
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