Establishing a culture of safety to ensure UAS success
UAS may reshape our day-to-day lives
— by Anthony (TJ) Dobson
The drone (UAS) world appears to be at an inflection point. More sophisticated and accessible technology is lowering barriers to entry for both hobbyists and commercial operators. At the same time, commercial drone use cases are exploding in areas such as logistics, transportation, agriculture, and more. As a result, drones have the potential to re-shape our day-to-day lives and how we interact with the world.
Before drones can begin to realize their potential impact, they need buy-in from regulatory authorities and the public at-large. Operationally this means that drones need to be successfully integrated into the National Airspace System (NAS) which will require updated policies, procedures, and minimum equipment requirements. From a societal perspective, people need to understand, trust, and accept the potential for drones to improve our lives.
One common thread to achieve acceptance from all stakeholders is reinforcing drone safety, because it will force a clear-eyed and proactive approach to NAS integration while minimizing accidents, helping to create public trust.
If the FAA is going to integrate drones into the NAS, it will need to ensure that drones are as or more safe than manned aircraft. For example, drones operating as peers to manned aircraft will need to be type-certified, which involves verifying that the aircraft and all component parts comply with designated standards. This will require the same rigorous development, testing, and data gathering as any manned aircraft to ensure comparable safety and reliability. Without a human pair of eyes aboard, a drone will also need to be equipped with collision avoidance systems that must prove to be as or more effective than the standard lookout doctrine used on traditional aircraft.
Spright performs rigorous development and testing.
Safe operations will also be critical to drones gaining widespread public acceptance. The reality is that one drone accident will receive significantly more attention than everyday safe operations and will have the potential to slow drone acceptance and usage in day-to-day life. To establish and maintain an accident-free track record requires safety programs that proactively identify and manage risk, and their use should be an expectation of drone service providers. This will not only promote a culture of safety, but also help build public trust and foster widespread acceptance.
Drone technology covers a spectrum of sophistication – from simple hobby aircraft to advanced military UAS. In the middle are the commercial drones that also vary widely in size, capability, and application. While the specific safety concerns of different operators may differ, the stakes are similar, since any aircraft, manned or unmanned, has the potential to cause harm to people and/or property. Establishing a culture of aviation safety within the drone community is imperative to ensure drones can seize the available opportunity to enhance our lives through improved speed, efficiency, sustainability, and accessibility of goods and services.
Anthony (T.J.) Dobson serves as the Director of Safety at Spright where he focuses on establishing rigorous safety standards for UAS operations in order to someday integrate them into the NAS.