NTSB Cites Range Of Safety Issues In UAV Investigation

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The NTSB has completed its first investigation into an accident involving an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and on Tuesday, the board issued 22 safety recommendations and expressed concern about operating these vehicles in the National Airspace System. NTSB Chairman Mark Rosenker said the high number of recommendations reflects "a wide range of safety issues involving the civilian use of unmanned aircraft." On April 26, a turboprop-powered Predator B operated on a surveillance mission by U.S. Customs and Border Protection crashed in a sparsely populated residential area near Nogales, Ariz. No one on the ground was injured, but the remotely piloted 66-foot-wingspan aircraft was substantially damaged. The board found that the pilot, who was not proficient in the performance of emergency procedures, inadvertently shut off the fuel while dealing with a console "lock-up" problem, causing a total loss of engine power. The NTSB cited several areas of particular concern, including the design and certification of the unmanned aircraft system, pilot qualification and training, the integration of UAVs into the air traffic management system, and the lack of audio records of UAV operations-related communications.

"This investigation has raised questions about the different standards for manned and unmanned aircraft and the safety implications of this discrepancy," said Rosenker. He said the pilot's console had been known to "lock up" in the past, but this issue was not resolved. "Such conditions would never be tolerated in the cockpit of a manned aircraft," he said. "We need to make sure that the system by which pilots are trained and readied for flight is rigorous and thorough. With the potential for thousands of these unmanned aircraft in use years from now, the standards for pilot training need to be set high to ensure that those on the ground and other users of the airspace are not put in jeopardy." The complete UAV accident report can be accessed online.