Drones Accidents in Perspective

nodroneEvery day people are killed in car accidents, trains derail, and planes crash.  The reality is that many of the things we use daily can lead to accidents.  However despite this reality we do not call for bans every time a car goes off the road.  Even with gun related deaths there is a strong outcry to not ban or restrict them.

But when it comes to drones there seems to be another stream of thought that comes into play, and the immediate reaction of the media and general public is to call for further regulations and restrictions or all out bans.

A single drone accident with no injuries gathers more headlines than a random shooting it is sad to say. Just this week we seen this play out with the FIS banning camera drones at ski events for the rest of the season.  This was a crash where no injury was involved and after who knows how many incident free flights prior.  Similar UAVs were used at the Sochi Olympics with no reported issues, and numerous other sporting events the last number of years. A complete ban seems more a knee jerk reaction than a rational long term decision.  While definitely the use should be halted until the cause is found, the fear is that a blanket ban will be the solution with no real rational risk/benefit based reasoning.

To date there have been no reported fatalities from what most consider the modern day non military commercial drone multicopter.  There have been a few cases of deaths from large recreational RC helicopters but again these are rare and extreme cases.  There have been  crashes with injuries and property damage, but in proportion to the rapid growth in drone use the issues have been limited in comparison. The same applies to run ins with manned aircraft, many “reports” of near misses but to date no major incident has taken place.

If the media treated car accidents with the same level of reporting as drone accidents there would not be enough time in the day to cover them all, yet any drone mishap tends to lead the news.

Drones are new and a disruptive technology so everyone gets caught up in the hype and fears.  The focus is on the bad side and never the good.  Any device needs to be looked at in perspective of both pros and cons and risk versus reward.  The reality is no technology is perfect or 100% safe, 700 people worldwide are killed each year as a result of toaster fires and electrocutions yet most people still risk making toast as part of a normal routine.

There will be accidents and no doubt eventually drone related fatalities.  However one incident does not define the entire industry or technology. We need to keep vigilant to make drones as safe as possible but with a realistic view on potential incidents that will happen from time to time. The industry needs to work to develop more reliable systems, and define proper codes of conduct and safety procedures for their use. Recreational users need to be educated on the proper use and avoiding risky areas near airports or crowds of people. This will be an ongoing process as the technology and the industry evolves.

Drones offer too many benefits to a wide range of industries to simply be dismissed out of safety concerns from a very small percentage of incidents.  We need to take a deep breath and look for balance. Where people once feared the horseless carriage the car is now an essential part of modern life, with all the good and bad it brings.  Drones will one day be looked back on in the same manner.

Built In Drone Flight Restrictions – The Good & Bad

As drone technology evolves the systems are developing rapidly to address not only flight control and piloting related functionality but also safety factors as well.

no fly zoneDJI is probably the most well known for these features with their Fly Safe built in no fly zone restrictions.  These restrictions help prevent people from flying in areas that should be off limits to most drone operations.

However these same built in restrictions also can lead to people depending on them too much and assuming the system will manage all safety concerns for them.  There is a growing attitude with some new drone owners that “if the system lets me fly then it is safe”.  A scary attitude when you consider how few aerodromes the DJI system actually contains, especially areas outside the US. Plus regardless of the airspace one must always pay attention and monitor the skies for other aircraft in the area, something these built in systems are far from automating as sense & avoid is still much in the development phase.

Any other issue with the restrictions is that they limit use for those with permission to fly within those controlled zones.  A local RC flying club even has a field located on the runway of an area designated as a No Fly area by DJI, which makes it impossible to use their system at the club despite all the proper safety precautions and permissions being put in place.

Technology has the power to provide a huge benefit in regards to drone safety but it can never be depended on 100%, there will always be other factors to account for that software simple cannot handle.  It is a shared airspace and everyone needs to take personal responsibility for operating within it to ensure safety for all.

Lithium Metal Batteries as Cargo in 2015 – IATA Updated Regulations

???????????The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has some great information regarding lithium battery safety and transporting guidance that is a great reference to those of us involved in UAVs and needing to ship lithium batteries.

Lithium batteries have become the preferred energy source to power a wide variety of consumer goods ranging from mobile phones to children’s toys to e-bikes. Though widely used, most people are not aware that lithium batteries are dangerous goods and can pose a safety risk if not prepared in compliance with the transport regulations.

To help with their compliance requirements, IATA has developed guidance information for shippers, freight forwarders, ground handlers, airlines and passengers.

Lithium metal batteries transported as cargo will be restricted to Cargo Aircraft Only from 1 January 2015. The prohibition on the carriage on passenger aircraft only applies to lithium metal batteries when shipped by themselves, and does not apply to batteries packed with equipment or contained in equipment.

Full details can be found here.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is the trade association for the world’s airlines, representing some 250 airlines or 84% of total air traffic. They support many areas of aviation activity and help formulate industry policy on critical aviation issues.

Onsite Safety for UAV Operations

When working on location one of the most important factors is safety.  Be it a public park or industrial work site, all locations will have elements that need to be taken into account for safe operation.

Safety includes both with your UAV and gear and the site itself.  Proper preoperational planning will go a long way in helping establish safety procedures and executing a safe operation.

The following are some general tips and advice on working safely on site with your UAV: (more…)

CAA UK – You Have Control

The UK Civil Aviation Authority have released some simple but to the point general safety rules and guidance for UAV operations.  While not specific to all countries they are good clear suggestions for safe use for anywhere. Would be nice to see similar guidelines become used worldwide and be included with all UAVs sold.

CAA UK – You have control (PDF download)

CAA You have control 1

CAA You have control 2