The National Transportation Safety Board's historic ruling on the
probable cause of the April 2006 Predator B unmanned aircraft crash in Arizona
represents just the first of a series of unmanned systems accident
investigations that will follow as drones of all sizes finally win approval by
federal air safety regulators to operate unfettered in the National Airspace
The Safety Board ruled that the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) accident
was chiefly caused by the ground-based pilot's failure to use checklist
procedures to safely operate the aircraft. The NTSB issued 22 safety
recommendations to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Federal
Aviation Administration covering "a wide range of safety issues involving the
civilian use of unmanned aircraft," said Safety Board Chairman Mark V. Rosenker.
He said the contractor's performance in providing airborne border patrol
surveillance for the federal agency was not without issue. "This was not as
tight (an operation) as it should have been. CBP bought what it believed was a
solid operation, but mistakes were being made."
At issue is whether unmanned aerial systems (UAS) will ever provide "an
equivalent level of safety" to manned aircraft operating in the NAS.
"This investigation has raised questions about the different standards
for manned and unmanned aircraft and the safety implications of this
discrepancy," said Rosenker. "Why, for example, were numerous unresolved lock-
ups of the pilot's control console even possible while such conditions would
never be tolerated in the cockpit of a manned aircraft?"
Expressing concerns about how manned and unmanned aircraft will share the
same airspace, Chairman Rosenker said, "The fact that we approved 22 safety
recommendations based on our investigation of a single accident is an indication
of the scope of the safety issues these unmanned aircraft are bringing into the
The Safety Board's investigation revealed that the pilot was not
proficient in the performance of emergency procedures, which led to the
accident. "The pilot is still the pilot, whether he is at a remote console or on
the flight deck."
But Rosenker is bullish about the future of UAVs in the civil world.
"UAVs will be extremely important for the future of aviation. I see them being
used effectively in the civil environment, and eventually in the commercial
environment. These are exciting times, but we need a well thought out plan for
UAV operations and safety if they will be as successful as I believe they can
"This accident investigation will go a long way to making unmanned
aircraft operations in the NAS a much safer and efficient way of doing business.
In an interview after the NTSB hearing, Rosenker told Air Safety Week that "we
want to address UAV operations in the NAS early, before we have a lot of these
devices flying in airspace, possibly creating a very serious potential for
He said achieving "an equivalent level of safety" for drone operations in
the NAS is not just a goal, but a given. "We shouldn't settle for anything less.
A UAV can't be a rogue, exempt from appropriate rules and regulations that keep
our airspace safe and thus avoids chaos."
The CBP may again deal with the NTSB in that the law enforcement agency
The preferred term at this juncture is not simply "unmanned aircraft," but "unmanned aircraft systems" (UAS), because there's so much more than just the aircraft.
Accomplishing the necessary modeling and simulation just to develop standards could take another 4-5 years.
Patrick Geraghty, a National Transportation Safety Board administrative law judge, said that the FAA has no regulations governing model aircraft flights or for classifying model aircraft as an...
The National Transportation Safety Board today issued a total of 22 safety recommendations to address what NTSB Chairman Mark V. Rosenker said were "a wide range of safety issues involving the...