Drone accidents NTSB proposed regulation

A new Notice of Proposed Regulations (NPRM) from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) aims to revise the agency’s powers to investigate drone accidents. In AUVSI’s formal comment, the largest unmanned systems advocacy group asks whether the change – which extends the agency’s range to include smaller drones – is really having an impact on flight safety.

The NTSB is currently investigating manned aircraft or other serious transportation accidents. They are only authorized to investigate drone accidents based on a weight criterion of 300 pounds and to limit their sphere of influence to larger aircraft. The NPRM would remove the current weight requirement entirely and replace it with “a requirement for an airworthiness certificate or permit”.

“The weight threshold is no longer a suitable criterion because unmanned aerial vehicle systems (UAS) are below 300 lbs. operated in high risk environments, e.g. B. out of line of sight and over populated areas. The proposed definition will enable the NTSB to be notified of UAS events of security relevance and to respond quickly, ”says the NPRM.

As the FAA and the drone industry are working to define and develop type certifications, this could be an overly broad definition, emphasizes AUVSI. In addition, not all drone accidents are worth investigating or will contribute to significant findings: Among other things, AUVSI suggests that the NTSB add the “significant damage” filter to the accidents they are investigating.

You can see the full comment from AUVSI at the link above. Below is an excerpt from their published comments.

The NPRM proposes changing the current authority of NTSB by eliminating the gross take-off weight of 300 pounds or more tied to the “significant damage” clause that triggers an investigation. Instead, the NPRM proposes to apply the “Serious Damage” clause to all aircraft that have a certificate of airworthiness or certification. The category of UAS with a certificate of airworthiness or an approval is very broad and will continue to grow as the industry develops. New technologies and building materials, including lightweight and fragile materials, ensure that small UAS are purposefully built to reduce impact and damage to the public, other aircraft, or property. Accordingly, AUVSI advises the NTSB to consider the FAA’s risk-based requirements for aircraft receiving a certificate of airworthiness or certification, and the extremely low-risk categories that many of these aircraft fall into. For example, completely eliminating the weight standard may not be the best way to achieve NTSB’s intent. Instead, AUVSI suggests maintaining a maximum take-off weight tied to the “Significant Damage” clause as defined by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) as the category of small unmanned aerial vehicles (sUAS) derived from UAS less than 55 pounds exist. AUVSI also suggests refining the proposed language to align it with the FAA Part 107 Rule (14 CFR 107) accident reporting language. Specifically, we suggest the condition that these accident investigations be conducted only if the repair cost exceeds $ 500 and / or the market value of the property damage exceeds $ 500, as is the case in the accident reporting clause of Section 107.9 that the authority of the NTSB be in a cost-effective manner that brings real benefits to flight safety.

In addition, AUVSI encourages the NTSB to clarify that “unmanned aircraft accidents” should not apply to anticipated or intended damage to unmanned aircraft that are intentionally designed with mitigation software and hardware for the purposes of airworthiness certification. Many UAS that receive a certificate of airworthiness or certification are purposely built to sacrifice the integrity of the vehicle and are made from fragile materials that will break apart on impact and / or absorb collision energy to reduce impact on people or things. In another example, a UAS may be directed in very strong winds or automatically deploy a parachute to land in a remote area as quickly as possible. Depending on the terrain, such a landing could cause “significant” damage to the UAS, but this is expected and accepted as part of the drone’s expected risk reduction behavior. These and many other types of mitigation are built into UAS that receive an airworthiness certificate. It would therefore be appropriate to clarify that an accident investigation is not required if the UAS acts as intended in the sense of the airworthiness certificate or the approval, even if damage has occurred.

Fortunately, while drone accidents are a reality for a growing industry, major accidents are extremely rare. If they do occur, they should be carefully investigated: but any regulations affecting the drone industry must be carefully crafted to ensure they can accommodate future changes. AUVSI’s comments advocate flexible, risk-based rules – consistent for all government agencies.

Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional marketplace for drone services, and a passionate observer of the emerging drone industry and regulatory environment for drones. Author of over 3,000 articles focusing on the commercial drone space, Miriam is an international speaker and recognized figure in the industry. Miriam graduated from the University of Chicago and has over 20 years experience in high-tech sales and marketing for emerging technologies.
For advice or writing in the drone industry, email Miriam

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