Drone ban 'must be considered' after rail survey aircraft falls in garden

Consideration should be given to banning drones which could injure people below after an aircraft carrying out a railway survey crashed into a garden, a report has said.

Thursday, 20th May 2021, 4:03 pm

It follows an earlier recommendation to specify conditions for safely flying unmanned aircraft near people after an incident in Leeds.

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In the latest incident, an unmanned DJI Phantom 4 RTK was being operated in automated flight mode by Network Rail to survey track at Newtongrange in Dalkeith, Midlothian on the afternoon of December 2 last year.

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The Civil Aviation Authority is being urged to consider a ban on drones which could injure people below. Picture: newnow/stock.adobe.com

However, one of the four propellers detached mid-flight and the drone rapidly descended from a height of 70m (230ft) where it fell into the back garden of a house nearby.

The Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) has investigated the incident and found a member of the public was 10m from where the aircraft landed.

Now the organisation is calling on the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to consider the use of the unmanned aircraft “to reduce the risk of colliding with people and causing injuries that could be fatal”.

Analysis indicated a blunt object with the same mass as the DJI Phantom 4 RTK (1.391kg) and falling from a height of only eight metres (25ft) could result in fatal injury to someone even wearing a hard hat.

The AAIB previously made a safety recommendation after an incident in Leeds in January 2020, saying: “It is recommended that the Civil Aviation Authority specify the conditions that must be met for an unmanned aircraft to be flown safely over people.”

It also noted that while there has been a change in unmanned aircraft system (UAS) regulations, those holding permission for commercial operation (PfCO) or operational authorisation issued by the CAA “may overfly uninvolved people with a UAS of more than 250 grams and that is able to impart more than 80 Joules of kinetic energy”.

The report said: “It is recommended that, until an analysis of failure rates per flying hour has demonstrated an acceptable level of safety, the Civil Aviation Authority should consider prohibiting the overflight of uninvolved persons for those unmanned aircraft operating in the specific category which rely solely upon their propulsion system for lift that would, following a failure of the propulsion system, impact the ground with a kinetic energy exceeding 80 Joules.”

As part of the safety action, the report adds: “In January 2021, Network Rail precluded the use of DJI Phantom 4s in support of its survey activities.

“Furthermore, they advised that they intend to carry out trials using a UAS with a maximum take off mass (MTOM) of less than 250 grams for when there is a need for UAS operations over uninvolved persons.

“The flight management system (FMS) is also being updated to provide a ‘risk map’ to include information on areas having known hazards, such as transmission masts that could affect UAS communications.”

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