Recently I’ve been receiving emails from public safety drone pilots with concerns over the quality of drone repairs or manufacturing.
While these messages have centered around DJI issues, this is not exclusively a DJI problem and more reports will come in regarding DJI issues since to date they hold a majority of market share.
I have repeatedly warned pilots that the drones they buy and fly today have not been determined to be safe to fly.
They are not built to standards more than a toy and have not been determined to be airworthy.
To learn more about the importance of an airworthiness determination by obtaining a Type Certification and the risks of flying an aircraft that is not determined to be safe to fly, click here.
Here are some of the comments I have received.
“To make matters worse, my 11/2018 Matrice 210 RTK v1 had to ge to DJI repair center for a Min Controller Board Failure. DJI required $3000.00 for repairs as the aircraft has to be broken apart to fix and returned a Matrice 210 RTK v1 which states a 2017 manufacturing date with my original Assemble sticker on the outside and two arms w/ motors replaced.”
Another reader told me, “The type certification is an issue, almost none of the drone companies seem to take flight testing as seriously as I would like. When I was at [X] we sold a client ~150 M200s…the number of those 150 that came broken from the factory was alarming. I’d say it was probably 10%, maybe more.”
Another accident report said, “I [took out of service] this drone within a few flights from getting serviced and inspected for the very issue that it was sent out for.”
You Need to Understand the Danger
The drones you are flying today are an odd aircraft when it comes to my experience in aviation since 1988.
The FAA has always been focused on safety in the National Airspace System (NAS). Aircraft flying in the NAS had to obtain a Type Certificate before being determined to be airworthy and safe to fly.
Manufacturers of aircraft that hold a Type Certification also have a duty to advised owners of important or critical issues that impact safe flight. These come in the form of Airworthiness Directives (AD) or Service Bulletins (SB).
Drone manufacturers aren’t required to notify you of known defects. That is why I created ReportDroneAccident.com
While it is understandable that a number of forces have wanted to drive innovation rapidly in the drone space, everyone MUST UNDERSTAND that comes at a cost to safety. And as a UAS pilot you have a duty to make sure your aircraft is in a condition for safe operation but you have no way of determining that.
(a) No person may operate a civil small unmanned aircraft system unless it is in a condition for safe operation. Prior to each flight, the remote pilot in command must check the small unmanned aircraft system to determine whether it is in a condition for safe operation.
(b) No person may continue flight of the small unmanned aircraft when he or she knows or has reason to know that the small unmanned aircraft system is no longer in a condition for safe operation.
Without either a Type Certification and an annual inspection by a licensed aircraft mechanic or a determination by an FAA Inspector, you can’t determine if your aircraft is in a condition that has been established as safe for flight.
FAR 91.409 and Part 43
As an example of what has been proven to determine if an aircraft is safe to fly and to keep it in a condition for safe operation, Federal Aviation Regulations talk about the need for an annual inspection and extensive requirements for maintenance, preventive maintenance, rebuilding, and alteration procedures.
Some may raise the point that experimental aircraft don’t have to undergo a rigorous annual inspection. That is true, however, as the AOPA says, “An experimental airplane does not need to have a traditional annual inspection, but the operating limitations do require an annual condition inspection. The builder may perform this inspection if he or she holds an experimental repairman certificate issued under FAR 65.104. The original builder is the only person who can qualify for the experimental repairman certificate. Anyone with an airframe and powerplant mechanic certificate may also perform the annual condition inspection, but it may be difficult to find one who has experience with a specific design. Experimental airplanes do not need an annual sign-off by a mechanic with inspection authorization.”
You certainly cannot trust the drone is safe to fly new and from the manufacturer since there are no determined standards to make to reach that conclusion.
The Parts Problem
Right now there is no requirement that any part you purchase to attach on your UAS or to replace a current part meets any safety standard.
In the rest of the aviation world parts must meet certain requirements to be approved for use. These include a Technical Standard Order (TSO) or a Parts Manufacturer Approval (PMA). In addition, prior to modifying an aircraft from the original Type Certificate, the process must have a Supplemental Type Certificate (STC).
Type Certifications are Coming
In the very near future, drones that have completed the Type Certification process will be on the market. I would expect to see more insurance companies require a TC and to it becoming the standard to operating drones safely.
Until that day comes, just keep in mind the drone pilot is the final authority to determine if the drone is in a condition for safe operation.