Preview: UAP Reporting Guidance​

Our team of Human Factors experts discuss an approach to improve aviation safety by improving UAP reporting among aerospace personnel. 

Shawn Pruchnicki, David Burstein, Iya Whiteley, Daniel Gibson


The mission of the AIAA Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena Integration and Outreach Committee is to improve aviation safety by enhancing scientific knowledge of, and mitigating barriers to, the study of Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena (UAP). The initial UAP report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) characterizes UAP as a potential flight safety hazard. The ODNI report states that U.S. military pilots reported near-misses with UAP in 11 classified events. In some instances, UAP “reportedly appear to exhibit unusual flight characteristics.” While a large percentage of analyzed UAP reports have ordinary explanations – balloons, birds, sensor error, or observer misperception – aviators are still being deterred from reporting UAP events due to sociocultural stigma and disparagement from reporting and discussing UAP with colleagues. 

Knowledge about UAP is limited. Most data from military systems are classified. As a result, rigorous scientific analyses of UAP have not been performed. Unlike the cases discussed in the ODNI report, there have been no recent, public statements from commercial or regulatory aviation authorities about flight risks that may be associated with UAP.  

Aviation safety relies upon an accurate recognition of safety hazards, appropriate flight crew responses, timely communication, and blame-free safety event reviews. UAP compromise flight safety because of challenges with detection, hazard recognition, and uncertainty in choosing optimal responses. Additionally, stigma against reporting UAP hinders communication during real-time events and post-hoc event reviews. 

UAP occupational safety and reporting guidance – 6 key considerations 

The AIAA UAP Integration and Outreach Committee is promoting the collection of data from aviators and aviation crew members who become aware of potential flight safety risks caused by UAP. To facilitate data collection and improve aviation safety, we are developing UAP Occupational Safety and Reporting Guidance. Our guidance will include procedures for UAP that appear to have “unusual flight characteristics.” The UAP Integration and Outreach Committee Occupational Safety and Reporting Guidance involves six key considerations: 

  • Determining Hazards: Aviators, aviation technicians, and airspace management operators should be enabled to determine that a UAP is a potential flight safety hazard without definitively identifying the UAP.  

  • Aviation Team Responses: Once a UAP has been determined to be a flight safety hazard, warning processes and appropriate flight crew actions can help maintain flight operations and improve safety.  

  • Observation and Incident Reporting: Commercial and private aviation organizations can begin using data collection tools as a basis for making safety improvements related to UAP flight hazards. Reporting to an agency with resources to host rigorous publicly accessible scientific datasets will improve knowledge about UAP characteristics and capabilities. 

  • Workplace Stigma and Safety Culture: Creating a culture of safety around UAP will involve open communication about UAP events, professionalism during UAP responses, and psychological safety for aviation team members. Safety culture for UAP includes accommodations for biases in human cognition that may mislead one’s interpretation of a situation. 

  • Team Member Occupational Well-being and General Health: Common occupational health-related consequences of UAP events likely include social isolation, psychological distress, self-doubt, and career-related anxiety (i.e., fear of job loss). These considerations can expand for trends in reports of psychological, emotional, social, or physical health issues associated with UAP events. 

  • National Scientific Data Collection and Integration: UAP reports should be collected and integrated from disparate individual reporting agencies into one central data repository. Pilot, air crew, and Air Traffic Control subjective reports should be correlated with objective ground and aerospace-based sensor data.   

We are partnering with aviation leaders who support our mission to reduce UAP stigma and improve aviation safety.