Aviation Safety in America-
Unidentified Aerial Phenomena and
Under Reporting Bias
Lack of Knowledge About UAP
Characteristics Has Contributed to
Under-Reporting of UAP Incidents.
strangeness of UAP observations and incidents is
perhaps the single factor most affecting UAP reporting.
Aviation professionals do not understand the profile
of UAP observations and incidents. This lack of
understanding combined with the strangeness of the
experience itself and the current skeptical environment
within the aviation community negatively effect
of obsevations include:
observations of lights or objects that are
visible to ground and/or air based radars
as targets that do not display transponder codes.
observations of lights or objects that may
not be not visible on ground or air based
observations of objects that may not be visible
to the unaided viewer and that do not display
of incidents include:
pacing, sometimes very close. Occasionally erratic
movements are reported.
of on-board avionics systems.
passes at sometimes very close range.
(including injuries) resulting from control inputs
to avoid near mid-air collisions.
of, electrical systems, lighting, and air traffic
near aviation facilities.
or Missing aircraft.
are described as single or multiple lights or
objects with unusual qualities.
often appear as solid balls of white, blue, green,
red, amber or orange light. Some will occasionally
seem to display multicolored flashing lights,
spotlights, colored beams, sparks, etc….
They can be very bright.
can appear as simple geometric forms; cones, triangles,
cylinders, rectangles, oblate spheroids (discs)
and tauroids (donuts). Some UAP are reported to
have a bright metallic-like surface.
can range in size from 6" to several hundred
feet. Reliable radar/visual observations of very
large lights and objects have been reported.
are reported to hover and to move erratically
and at great speed.
observations can be accompanied by transient or
permanent electrical/avionic system failures.
can manifest directly over airport facilities
creating a physical threat to aircraft, and can
disrupt communications, lighting and other electrical
have been reported to divide into two or more
lights or objects, release smaller lights and/or
objects and recover lights and/or objects.
lack of knowledge about UAP combined with the truly
unusual qualities of these lights and objects can
contribute to confusion and cause a situation to
escalate, particularly if the incident occurs in
close proximity to airports or other areas with
dense aviation traffic.
these observations can seem quite mysterious, it
is appropriate to note that there are several kinds
of rare and poorly understood natural phenomena
that may be responsible for some of these observations
Given these characteristics it is easy to understand
the stress these unusual observations can cause
to those who witness them. Though these events are
not understood, they have occurred over nearly every
nation and region on Earth. Regardless of whether
or not we understand what is happening, it is appropriate
to seek steps to mitigate safety related incidents
and to gather more data.
Insensitivity to UAP Witnesses Within
the Aviation System Has Contributed
to Under-Reporting of UAP Incidents.
Aircrews, Safety managers, ARTCC personnel, commercial airlines, unions
and now, Aviation Security personnel are caught
in a paradoxical situation. The image of conservative
and responsible aviation professionals conducting
serious work to save lives and improve aviation
safety is threatened by reporting observations of,
or expressing simple curiosity about UAP. There
is no momentum within the aviation system to investigate
these incidents and make appropriate recommendations.
is unreasonable to conclude that conservative, responsible
individuals do not 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.
unusual observations are rare. Current estimates
support the contention that these incidents occur
once in every 5-7 careers. Comparable aviation
issues might include wind shear, which occurs once
every 5 million take offs and landings or about
once every 5 careers. It is entirely possible that
a controller or aircrew may observe UAP and be faced
with reporting it to a very experienced manager
that has never seen anything unusual throughout
his career and is skeptical of anyone else who may
have. This can be an effective barrier against any
further discussion or reporting of safety related
is aware of one airman who recently underwent two
separate psychological evaluations within three
months because he apparently expressed his interest
in UAP to the "wrong" co-worker(s). The
case was made by his airline management that perhaps
the pilot represented a threat to safety because
he was too willing to share his opinion on this
controversial topic. This pilot had not even
claimed that he has seen UAP
respect to culpability, one can hardly consider
the giving of attention to a conservative and responsible
image to be negligent behavior. Questioning the
mental health of personnel who claim to have seen
a UAP or are "overly" interested in the
topic is consistent with what the US aviation system
knows about UAP at this point in time.
aviation professionals who are confronted with these
incidents and observations are facing enough difficulty
as they try to cope with what they may have seen.
Without a supportive and respectful structure
in place to receive these reports with the seriousness
they deserve, aviation professionals are underserved
and even betrayed by their own profession.
This situation is detrimental to morale and contributes
directly to a bias against reporting any observation
or incident involving UAP.
be fair, NARCAP conducted an aircrew survey of an
entire commercial airline in September 2001 (NARCAP
Technical Report 5, Haines and Roe, 2001). There
were no difficulties promoting our survey, gaining
permission to conduct our study, or pursuing the
actual study. The pilot who submitted our request
for permission to conduct this study was not adversely
affected. Clearly some U.S airlines are more sensitive
about the issue than others.
idea that UAP not only exist but are also a credible
threat to flight safety may make aviation executives
and their insurers uncomfortable. While UAP related
incidents may be rare, morally and ethically there
is no better way to manage the issue than in the
most honest and forthright manner possible. The
current situation is stifling reporting, and research
and is compromising safe aviation. The following
suggestions for resolving this situation should
current incident reporting forms in all of the
incident databases of the FAA and the NTSB to
include questions addressing UAP incident profiles.
Implement a program to capture data across all
aviation systems and bureaucracies. A straightforward
reporting policy, contained within the day-to-day
standards and practices manuals of those organizations
and businesses directly affected by the phenomena
is critical to minimizing stress within the aviation
culture and developing base metrics.
Develop base metrics including Frequency of Occurrence
to be used to develop incident profiles and identify
research paths leading to procedural or technical
Implement a basic education program on the topic
of UAP for managers and airmen across all aviation
systems. This program should include, but not
be limited to educating aircrew, ATC and managers
of UAP characteristics, reporting procedures and
under reporting bias.
Train psychological specialists who are participate
in commercial aviation corporate Employee Assistance
Programs and other mental health programs to support
the aviation community. This is an essential step
for total management of the issue.
the taxonomy of the phenomena from Unidentified
Flying Object or UFO to Unidentified Aerial Phenomena
are several specific issues that will determine
the ultimate success of such a program. These issues
are a direct result of the lack of attention given
to these incidents to date and could be considered
a reason for the lack of accurate data regarding
managing this matter requires an organizational
model that is transparent and open to both public
sector scrutiny and scientific debate, focused on
acquiring accurate data from un-intimidated observers
and reliable aviation sources and is capable of
presenting that data credibly to the aviation community
and the general public. This organization should
remain focused on examining the relationship between
these observations and aviation safety.
is common knowledge that there is a debate in science
and in the public regarding the potential that some
of these phenomena may represent incursions by extraterrestrial
intelligences. The relationship between an organization
studying these unusual lights and objects and this
debate should be managed responsibly and conservatively.
From the standpoint of the research conducted by
NARCAP, the debate exists and still remains unresolved,
however the primary focus of the research is to
mitigate unsafe flying conditions caused by unidentified
FAA, the USAF, NASA and a great portion of the rest
of the aviation/aeronautics community have taken
great pains to avoid discussions regarding UFO/UAP.
In some cases these responses to inquiries have
been mild, in others examples the response from
official sources regarding inquiries into UFO/UAP
have been dismissive, demeaning and derogatory.
is appropriate to note that popular culture is rife
with claims of government-based obfuscation of the
theories regarding these phenomena reflect this
lack of belief in government information on UAP.
In the public eye these concerns are very real and
contribute to a further erosion of trust and respect
for government officials.
appropriate approach is to officially recognize
an independent, public, transparent organization
whose sole mission is to address aviation safety
related issues with respect to UAP. This organization
should be considered the central data point for
all UAP reporting, investigations, and research
across all US aviation administrations, bureaucracies,
and businesses within the US aviation system. Further,
this organization should handle all media issues,
public inquiries, etc., in a respectful and conservative
manner. The most appropriate candidate for this
central data point is the nonprofit organization,
NARCAP, the National Aviation Reporting Center on
failure to address these issues on the part of the
aviation community may result in the following consequences:
under-reporting bias and the resulting inaccurate
and un-reviewed data will contribute to a failure
to mitigate a known hazard.
fear and lack of initiative when aviation professionals
are confronted with the presence of UAP will contribute
to unsafe flying conditions.
will be continued and increased reports of transient
and permanent avionics and electrical systems
failures when UAP incidents are reported. As aircraft
become ever more dependent on microprocessors
they become more vulnerable to electromagnetic
will be continued reports of "near midair
collisions" with unknown and objects and
including injuries, catastrophic failures and
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