The Academy of Model Aircraft (AMA), representing a large community of drone operators, has issued a statement on the recently released National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) report on the collision between a civilian (DJI Phantom) and a Black Hawk helicopter near Staten Island, New York this September.
The report – and the blame, in this case – is clear. The drone operator was fully responsible for the incident. The operator wasn’t only breaking every basic rule in the book – he was totally unaware of most of them.
The drone operator admitted to flying over 400 feet and at a distance of 2.5 miles away – well beyond visual line of site in an area that he understood was frequently shared. He had no idea that was a problem.
“… even though the sUAS pilot indicated that he knew there were frequently helicopters in the area, he still elected to fly his sUAS beyond visual line of sight, demonstrating his lack of understanding of the potential hazard of collision with other aircraft,” says the report. “In his interview, the sUAS pilot indicated that he was not concerned with flying beyond visual line of sight, and he expressed only a general cursory awareness of regulations and good operating practices.”
A “general cursory awareness” might be an overly generous assessment. There was a Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) in effect for the area: the pilot, relying on the DJI GO app on a tablet without cellular connection capability, was totally unaware of it. The collision happened immediately before the end of civil twilight (2 minutes) but the pilot was unaware of any rules about night flight, saying that his drone had four lights. He’d had no training, and did not even realize that his drone had collided with a helicopter until contacted by authorities. (He assumed the drone had just crashed into the ocean when he lost signal.) The 10-page report is an embarrassment to responsible drone operators and an industry struggling to work with lawmakers on reasonable regulation.
Chad Budreau, Public Relations and Government Affairs Director at the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA), made the following statement about the report, calling on the FAA for education and accountability.
“Careless and reckless operators should be held accountable. The rogue drone operator involved in this incident violated Part 107 of the Federal Aviation Regulations and a temporary flight restriction, among other irresponsible behavior. The FAA should educate and hold this person accountable for these actions.
“AMA members follow a strict set of safety guidelines in accordance with Section 336, the Special Rule for Model Aircraft. Section 336 provides a recreational alternative to Part 107 for responsible model aviation and drone enthusiasts who follow the guidelines of a community-based organization. It is important to note that the drone operator involved in this incident was not a Section 336 operator.
“We support stricter enforcement of existing laws against careless and reckless drone operators. This incident also underscores how regulation alone will not prevent some people from flying where they shouldn’t. More education will help those who may be new to flying drones understand what they can and cannot do. We continue to work with UAS stakeholders on the Know Before You Fly campaign to help educate this group on how to fly safely and responsibly.”
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.