NZCAA Research may overstate number of drones by 250 percent

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Independent analysis of research released by the Civil Aviation Authority indicates that the number of drones and drone users may be significantly overstated.

On 12 August 2020 the Civil Aviation Authority released a report from market research agency Colmar Brunton claiming that there may be 15,322 drones in New Zealand used for business or scientific purposes, and 156,610 drones used for recreational purposes. In an analysis released today, aviation consulting firm Aviation Safety Management Systems Ltd (ASMS) calls into question the accuracy of these figures. Dr Andrew Shelley, the Managing Director of ASMS, said that the analysis draws on the firm’s own private data set of commercial drone operators as well as casting a critical eye over the data and conclusions contained in the survey report.

Dr Shelley stated that “the number of commercial drone operators claimed by the survey report is not consistent with the survey report’s own data.” He said that “using the survey report’s own data, the number of commercial drone users may be overstated by up to 337 percent. Applying the ASMS data set, we estimate that the number of drones used commercially could be overstated by up to 250 percent.”

Dr Shelley questioned “if this is true of the number of commercial users and commercial drones, does the same level of overstatement apply to the number of recreational drones and recreational drone users?”

The ASMS analysis also identifies that the survey report classifies airspace as restricted that is not restricted. In the ASMS analysis Dr Shelley suggests that the term restricted “was chosen to get good headlines that would drive a political agenda.”

Dr Shelley also questioned the implicit bias in survey questions that were clearly designed to garner support for the Ministry of Transport’s drone regulatory programme. “The questions are worded to imply that the proposed interventions will be effective, when there is actually considerable doubt about their effectiveness.”

“The importance of getting these numbers right goes to the heart of the Ministry of Transport’s drone regulatory programme” Dr Shelley said. “With drone users potentially over stated by such a large factor, there is a significant risk that these inflated numbers will be used to justify policy interventions that are not proportionate”.

In addition, Dr Shelley noted that the survey report “lacks basic data and analysis that would be expected from a robust analysis – there are no error bounds and no attempt to identify whether the results are statistically significant. This might not be important to the casual reader, but it is important if policy interventions are to be evidence-based.”

A copy of the ASMS analysis can be downloaded here.

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