UK AAIB investigation into drone accident – Alauda Airspeeder MK II
IFA Comment: The UK AAIB’s detailed report highlights the failures that that can occur in UAS design, build and operations. This was a demonstration flight of an ambitious new high performance air vehicle. It’s evident that the build standards was not that which would normally be expected. The airworthiness and operational lesson learned from such incidents must be given particular attention by the UAS community.
Whilst performing a demonstration flight, the remote pilot lost control of the 95 kg Alauda Airspeeder Mk II scale demonstrator. After the loss of control had been confirmed by the remote pilot, the safety ‘kill switch’ was operated but had no effect. The Unmanned Aircraft then climbed to approximately 8,000 ft, entering controlled airspace at a holding point for flights arriving at Gatwick Airport, before its battery depleted and it fell to the ground. It crashed in a field of crops approximately 40 m from occupied houses and 700 m outside of its designated operating area. There were no injuries.
The AAIB found that the Alauda Airspeeder Mk II was not designed, built or tested to any recognisable standards and that its design and build quality were of a poor standard. The operator’s Operating Safety Case contained several statements that were shown to be untrue.
The Civil Aviation Authority’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Unit had assessed the operator’s application and, after clarification and amendment of some aspects, issued an exemption to the Air Navigation Order to allow flights in accordance with the operator’s Operating Safety Case. The Civil Aviation Authority did not meet the operator or inspect the Alauda Airspeeder Mk II before the accident flight.
There have been many other similar events where control of an unmanned aircraft has been lost, resulting in either it falling to the ground or flying away. Even a small unmanned aircraft falling from a few metres could cause a fatal injury if it struck a person.
The Civil Aviation Authority and the organisation which designed and operated the Airspeeder Mk II have introduced measures to address a number of issues identified during the course of the investigation. In addition to the actions already taken this investigation report makes 15 Safety Recommendations regarding the operator’s procedures, airworthiness standards and the regulatory oversight.