Study Reveals Maintenance & Inspections are Key to Drone Safety

Why avionics shops are positioned well to serve the growing UAS market

Lacking a dedicated safety resource of study, investigation, and research, unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) have drawn on the safety template compiled by the commercial air transport (CAT) of humans. Logically, regardless of where they sit, pilots or operators face the same human factors that lead to most accidents. But a recent study from Australia, which issued its first drone regulations in 2002, shows that in 64 percent of the drone accidents and incidents studied, the cause was “some sort of equipment problem.”

“Exploring Civil Drone Accident and Incidents to Help Prevent Potential Air Disasters” analyzed 152 accidents and incidents that occurred worldwide between 2006 through 2015. The three authors at two Australian engineering universities found that drone accidents cannot be categorized—and prevented—using the CAT template. For drones, “technology issues, not human factors are the key.” Instead of human factors, “Regulators should therefore look at technologies and not focus solely on operators.”

Drone operators want to avoid accidents even more than regulators, and they must reach this goal without detailed regulatory requirements. Part 107 does not require periodic UAS inspections and maintenance, but the remote pilot in command is solely responsible for ensuring that the drone is in a condition for safe operation.

When it comes to “scheduled and unscheduled overhaul, repair, inspection, modification, replacement, and system software upgrades of the sUAS and its components necessary for flight,” Advisory Circular (AC) 107-2, Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems, says the manufacturer is the primary source of guidance.

If the manufacturer does not document scheduled maintenance, especially for time-limited components critical to the safety of flight, operators “should establish a scheduled maintenance protocol” by “documenting any repair, modification, overhaul, or replacement of a system component resulting from normal flight operations, and recording the time-in-service for that component at the time of the maintenance procedure.”

How, what, and when to maintain the sUAS and its components is only half of the safety equation. Who can perform this maintenance is the other half. In some cases, the manufacturer may require that it or a specified shop perform certain maintenance.

If the operator cannot follow the manufacturer’s recommendation, or is unable to perform the recommended maintenance, “the operator should consider the expertise of maintenance personnel familiar with the specific sUAS and its components.” In such cases, “the use of certificated maintenance providers are encouraged, which may include repair stations, holders of mechanic and repairman certificates, and persons working under the supervision of these mechanics and repairman.”

Recordkeeping is a key component of sUAS maintenance and inspection because it “provides retrievable empirical evidence of vital safety assessment data defining the condition of safety-critical systems and components supporting the decision to launch,” reads the AC.

As they have for CAT, compiling these records builds a foundation of operational experience, creating a knowledge base on which drone operators and regulators can draw when creating requirements for the employment of future drone innovations.

By Brad Hayden, President & CEO of Robotic Skies

Established in 2014, Robotic Skies is the world’s largest network of repair stations for drones. With service centers across five continents, Robotic Skies is the leading provider of compliance consulting, engineering design, assembly/completion services, and on-site field repair for industrial-grade unmanned aircraft. Customers range from high-performance multirotor and fixed-wing platform manufacturers to optionally-manned aircraft operators.

Drawing on only certified FAA and aviation authority approved maintenance organizations that currently maintain manned aircraft, Robotic Skies offers comprehensive turnkey field service programs designed to keep commercial UAS flying safely, efficiently, and affordably.

Article reprinted from Avionics News: http://www.brightcopy.net/allen/avne/53-11/#/6