Purdue University Graduate School
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Investigating the Threats of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) at Airports

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posted on 2020-12-15, 19:22 authored by Cheng WangCheng Wang
Safety is the top priority for the aviation industry and a safe airport environment is essential to aviation safety. However, due to the increasing prevalence of UAS in recent years, UAS sightings have become a potential threat to airports. When UAS appear in the vicinity of airports, they bring safety concerns and result in negative operational and economic impacts on airports. Since the FAA’s mission is to provide the safest and most efficient aerospace system in the world, further research regarding the threat of UAS sightings to airports is needed. The purpose of this study is to investigate the threat of UAS to airports and in the national airspace system (NAS). This study includes three primary components: the analysis of 6,551 Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) UAS sighting reports, a case study of the impacts of the UAS sighting at Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) on January 22, 2019, and a synthesis of airport operator perspectives based on interviews with airport personnel at five airports. The analysis of UAS sighting reports shows the characteristics of UAS sightings, the case study on EWR UAS illustrates the impact of the UAS sighting at the airport, and interview results illustrate the current perspective of airport operators regarding the risk of UAS. Along with the results, the scientific methods of identifying and analyzing the characteristics of UAS sightings in controlled airspace close to airports could be used by researchers to study UAS sightings in the future. Findings from this study may be beneficial to multiple stakeholders, including airport personnel, regulators, entrepreneurs, and vendors in the aviation industry.


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Aviation and Transportation Technology

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Sarah M. Hubbard

Additional Committee Member 2

Stewart W. Schreckengast

Additional Committee Member 3

Wei Zakharov

Additional Committee Member 4

Richard O. Fanjoy