EASA Offers Rules for Urban Drones
The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has published rules for safe drone operations in European cities that it says will balance “the desire to maximise the commercial and convenience benefits of drones against the need to ensure the safety and privacy of citizens and the potential environmental impact on our cities.”
EASA said, in announcing the publication in early April, that finding ways to safely integrate drones into city airspace is challenging because that space already is heavily used by other air traffic and because city residents typically are concerned about noise, privacy and the possibility that low-level drone flights could cause accidents and injuries.
“We are already starting to see an increasing number of complex flights undertaken by drones in various experiments across the globe,” EASA Executive Director Patrick Ky said. “Also, as everyone is aware, many companies have commercial ambitions to use drones for deliveries or, looking further ahead, to offer services such as air taxis.”
Ky said that EASA is proposing a regulatory framework to allow drone operations to coexist safely with “all the other activities in our urban environments.” The goal, he said, “is to ensure safe operations while also creating the basis for a competitive U-space market and establishing a level of environmental protection, security and privacy that is acceptable to the public.”
U-space refers to the management of drone traffic to ensure that it safely interacts with other aircraft in the same area.
EASA’s opinion has been sent to the European Commission to serve as a basis for future legislation. EASA also published a draft of acceptable means of compliance and guidance material to aid drone operators and European Union member states in complying with the rules. EASA will publish final drafts after the commission adopts the regulation.
NTSB: FAA Accepted Key Safety Recommendation
The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) says it has closed a long-pending safety recommendation calling on the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to monitor pilots diagnosed with an alcohol or drug dependency.
“Recommendations to change inadequate safety systems can and will save lives, which is why we push so long for some particularly impactful safety improvements like this one,” NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt said.
The NTSB issued safety recommendation A-07-43 on June 25, 2007, in the aftermath of its investigations of “a number of aircraft accidents in which the… FAA had information to indicate, and was or should have been aware, that the pilot had a history of substance dependence, and in which the pilot’s substance dependence was relevant to the cause of the accident.”
The recommendation called on the FAA to “require that all airmen clinically diagnosed with substance dependence … who are medically certified by the FAA subsequent to such diagnosis, are followed under guidelines for special issuance of medical certificates for the period that they hold such certificates.”
The NTSB said that, in January, FAA Administrator Stephen Dickson told the board that the FAA was actively following pilots in those circumstances. The NTSB responded that it considered the action acceptable and that it was closing its 13-year-old recommendation.
The recommendation was one of more than 200 on the NTSB’s 2019−2020 Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements that have not been addressed. The NTSB considers the list its primary advocacy tool for the top safety improvements that could prevent accidents.
‘Mixed Results’ Seen in Canadian Accident Data
Fatal aircraft accidents increased in 2019, according to preliminary data from the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB), which reported 32 fatal accidents with 67 associated fatalities in 2018, compared with 23 fatal accidents and 38 fatalities the previous year.
The TSB said its data show “mixed results,” with 226 total accidents, down slightly from the five-year average of 234.
There were 83 accidents in 2019 involving commercial operators, an increase from 66 accidents in 2018, the TSB said.
Preliminary data showed that 905 aviation incidents were reported to the TSB in 2019, compared with the 2018 figure of 860 incidents and the five-year average of 832.
Audit Finds Fraud Risk in Aircraft Registry
A U.S. government watchdog agency is faulting the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for its failure to verify information submitted to the U.S. aircraft registry, which contains information on about 300,000 civil aircraft.
The FAA instead relies on self-certification, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) said in its review of registry practices.
“According to GAO’s review of the registry process, there are risks associated with FAA not verifying applicant identity, ownership and address information,” the GAO said in a report on its review. “The registry is further vulnerable to fraud and abuse when applicants register aircraft using opaque ownership structures that afford limited transparency into who is the actual beneficial owner (i.e., the person who ultimately owns and controls the aircraft).”
The GAO report included 15 recommendations to the FAA, including that the agency collect and verify key information on the aircraft owners and that it conduct a risk assessment of the registry. The FAA agreed with all of the recommendations, the GAO said.
ATSB Resolves Fuel Contamination Mystery
A sealant used on fuel drums was the source of several instances of fuel contamination at four sites in Australia between 2016 and 2019, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) says.
In an investigation report issued in late April, the ATSB said that a pilot for an operator of four sites in Queensland and Western Australia had discovered white particles floating in a drum of Jet A1 fuel in September 2016. Six other drums were opened, and the same white particles were found. The operator reported three similar discoveries at three other locations later in 2016, in 2017 and in 2019, the ATSB said.
The drums had been manufactured by the same company and filled by different refueling companies, the ATSB report said, adding that an investigation determined that the contaminant was a sealant used by the drum manufacturer.
“The sealant’s mechanical properties were found to degrade when exposed to Jet A1 fuel,” the report said. “This, in combination with vibration and drum deformation during transport to remote locations over rough roads, likely resulted in pieces of sealant entering the fuel within the drum.”
No contaminants were found in any of the aircraft that were fueled from the drums, the report said, noting that filtration during refueling “appears to be effective in preventing these contaminants from reaching the aircraft.”
Stuart Macleod, ATSB director transport safety, said that fuel stored in drums is especially susceptible to contamination but that the risk can be limited by “applying appropriate drum handling and storage methods, visually inspecting drums for contaminants prior to refueling activities, regularly inspecting fuel pump filters and conducting fuel drains from the aircraft after each refuel for visual inspection.”
Universities Receive FAA Drone Grants
Eight universities across the United States have received a total of $2.6 million in grants to finance drone-related research, education and training, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) says.
The universities are participants in the FAA’s Air Transportation Center of Excellence for Unmanned Aircraft Systems. The grants are intended to continue the safe integration of drones into the U.S. National Airspace System.
Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said the money also would support activities that “provide operational experience like the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Pilot Program, all of which move us more quickly toward full integration.”
The grants will finance drone data collection and analysis, research into the development of regulatory products, development of risk-based training and standards, and establishment of drone pilot proficiency requirements, the FAA said.
The FAA has established 12 Centers of Excellence for research into drones and other critical topics.
Universities receiving grant funds include the University of North Dakota, New Mexico State University, University of Alaska, Kansas State University, Mississippi State University, The Ohio State University, Oregon State University and Drexel University.
In Other News …
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration plans to establish an electronic database to provide potential employers with speedy access to information about a pilot’s flight experience. The agency is accepting public comments on the proposal until June 29. … An audit by the U.S. Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General has concluded that the Federal Aviation Administration lacks necessary controls to ensure the security of its DroneZone registry and its Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability’s automated system to register drones for flights near airports.
Compiled and edited by Linda Werfelman.