A Drone Accident Just Occurred… Now What?

If one of your operation’s drone crashes, what do you do next?

As time goes on, drones are quickly becoming commonplace in the modern world – not just for hobbyists, but for businesses in nearly every sector. Numerous industries have fully embraced UAV technology, and now reap the rewards of that decision.

Businesses commonly see a lowering of costs, improved efficiencies, and safer work environments, almost immediately following the adoption of drones.

But, even with all their benefits and safety features, a chance of a drone accident always exists. Like any technology, there are times when the unexpected can happen.

And, although drone accidents are incredibly rare, user error or mechanical failures remain an ever-present possibility.

So, what do you do if an accident occurs? Who should you contact? What procedures should you have in place?

If your organization utilizes drones, these are critical questions. You need to have a plan in place for dealing with any sort of drone accident, crash, or injury that might someday occur.

Like any object falling from the sky, drones can cause property damage, injury to people, and perhaps even death. And, though some countries have laws in place regarding the reporting of drone accidents, your operations manual and standard operating procedures (SOPs) should extend beyond the legal requirement.

Let’s take a look at what you should prepare for, and the steps you can take now to avoid problems down the road.

If a Drone Accident Occurs, Prioritize Your Response

It’s easy to get wrapped up in concerns about legal issues or what an operations manual says to do when an accident occurs. However, but this should not be the immediate focus.

The first consideration should be to attend to anyone injured, or to address any damage which might pose a bigger problem, such as a fire or gas leak.

Render first aid, contact medical professionals if needed, and make sure the area is safe before focusing on reporting the accident.

drone operations manual
Related: Here's why your drone program needs an operations manual. (click image to learn more)

Understand the Law

Many countries have established laws regarding the reporting of drone accidents.

This is particularly true when significant property damage is caused or if someone is significantly injured. While each region is different, two examples worth mentioning are the United States and the United Kingdom/EU. 

In the United States, the FAA has specific guidelines for reporting accidents.

Note: there is a legal difference between an “incident” and an “accident.” Incidents are reported because they affect the safety of an aircraft, but do not cause an accident. Accidents are specific to causing damage and/or injury. 

According to the FAA, “The remote pilot in command of the small UAS or drone is required to report an accident to the FAA within 10 days if it results in at least serious injury to any person or any loss of consciousness, or if it causes damage to any property (other than the UAS or drone) in excess of $500 to repair or replace the property (whichever is lower).”

In the United Kingdom and EU, “Under regulation EU 996 ‘any person involved’ who has knowledge of the occurrence of an aircraft accident or serious incident in the UK must report it to the AAIB; ‘any person’ includes (but is not limited to) the owner, operator, and pilot of a UAS.” 

Regardless of where your drone operations take place, ensure you know the rules for the region before you take off.

Drone flight logbook
Related: Here's why your flight logbook matters. (click image to learn more)

Operations Manuals & SOPs

After addressing any immediate medical or safety issues, it’s time to begin your investigation. Here’s where having a well-developed operations manual with SOPs comes in handy.

If you’re ever in the unfortunate position of dealing with an accident, it’s easy to forget the list of information you need to collect and report. Your operations manual should take the guessing out of this process.

At a minimum, you’ll want to collect statements from everyone involved, or anyone who witnessed the accident. Additionally, make sure to take photos of any damage or injuries.

All pilots should keep flight logs that detail preflight checks and what occurred during a flight. So, as part of your drone accident response, logbooks should be collected as well. The drone’s internal flight log should also be downloaded and saved – that is, if the drone is still functioning well enough to do so.

A UAV accident may result in major legal repercussions; having all your information collected and accurate is your best defense. 

Once the investigation is completed and the after-effects of the accident are dealt with, determine what, if anything, could be changed to prevent similar problems in the future.

Make sure your standard operating procedures include: reviewing the facts of the accident with your team, conducting any necessary training, and/or making policy changes.

A Whole Team Effort

In many countries, the drone’s pilot is responsible for everything the drone does or fails to do. For this reason, many organizations may see accident reporting as solely the pilot’s responsibility. Depending on the size of your operation, the responsibility may fall on the pilot, a chief pilot, an operations manager, a safety officer, or even the CEO in smaller entities.  

The best approach is to recognize the importance of an accident by adopting a whole team view of the event. Every team member should be aware of what happened, what caused the accident, and how future accidents can be avoided. This may include more training or additional safety checks added to SOPs and the operations manual.

As part of training, you might want to consider running a table-top exercise, or practice “wargaming” an incident.

This way, you and your team can be better prepared should an incident occur. Pilots should know who to contact, and managers or company spokespeople can have plans in place for contacting authorities, or even the media, if necessary.

We recommend that this is done annually, inline with other business continuity planning or media training.

Key Takeaways

Drone accidents are thankfully, extremely rare.

But, as with any aircraft or moving vehicle, accidents can occur, and your organization should have a plan in place for addressing and reporting these incidents ahead of time.

It is essential to follow the legal requirements in your region, look to exceed those regulations, and make the response a team effort. Doing so will help to mitigate the damage from an event and help prevent future accidents from occurring. 

So, are you ready to take advantage of drones for your organization? If so, how do you get started? Do you hire out or bring your drone program in-house?

At Consortiq, we help you find a better way with drones, from consultation and program implementation to actually doing the work for you.

Ready to learn more? Just complete the form below to schedule a risk-free consultation!

Picture of David Daly - Contributing Author

David Daly - Contributing Author

David Daly, is an award-winning photographer/writer and licensed (FAA) Commercial sUAS pilot. A graduate of the United States Naval Academy, David is a former Marine Corps officer with a BS in Oceanography and has earned his MBA from the University of Redlands. David has worked for Fortune 100 companies and has a background in aerospace, construction, military/defense, real estate, and technology.

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