Guest Post by Paul Kostek (first posted on CERM ® RISK INSIGHTS – reposted here with permission)
Here in Seattle we’ve had several interesting incidents/accidents with personal UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) or drones.
In one case a person flew their UAV into the Space Needle, no damage and no one was hurt; at a parade an operator lost control and hit and knocked out a parade attendee and the operator was cited by police; UAV stuck on power lines over a lake, result – power turned off and UAV recovered at a cost of $35K and the operator was not found; and just recently a UAV was flown into the Ferris wheel on the waterfront, no damage to the wheel though a table on a nearby deck was destroyed.
In the first two of these cases the operators were identified and contacted by Seattle Police. No one has stepped forward in the third and fourth, and since the FAA database is not in place yet, the only means to track them may be through the manufacturer.
Rules for Flight
All of these cases have been of owner operated private UAVs, but leads me to wonder what will happen when an Amazon, UPS, or Pizza delivery UAV have their first accident? How will liability be addressed? Recovery of a crashed device and cargo from private property? Violations of FAA, or local regulations?
What will the risk management plan be for UAV delivery systems? It will need to address managing loss/damage of the cargo, the UAV, damage to property or to people.
Rules for flight will need to be established just as they are for commercial, military and general aviation. Will commercial UAVs be given dedicated airspace or share it with hobbyist? The need for sense and avoid systems will be essential for the UAVs to operate safely, will every one of the commercial UAVs include this capability, if not mandated?
There has been a lot of complaining about the slow pace of the FAA in implementing a plan for use of UAVs, but as with any regulatory agency, having the right people to do the planning and respond to technology changes is a challenge. This year NASA hosted a conference (NASA Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) Traffic Management Convention or UTM 2015 – http://utm.arc.nasa.gov/utm2015.shtml) to address the issues with introducing UAVs into the National Airspace. Creating an operating airspace system that can be scaled will be essential to making the intro of UAVs work. Both Google and Amazon presented whitepapers at the conference proposing UAV operating plans – following are links to the Google and Amazon papers:
There is much to be done to insure that commercial drones are introduced safely and limit the impact on the environment, both in the air and on the ground.
What’s going on in your neighborhood?
Paul Kostek is a Principal of Air Direct Solutions LLC a Seattle based systems engineering and project management firm.