FAA Drone Pilot CertificateChanging the Definition of Drone Accidents

July 9, 2021by helo-10

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) wants to change the definition of drone accidents, or “unmanned aircraft accident” in order to encompass smaller commercial drones operating in higher risk environments.

Currently, pilots flying under Part 107 are asked to report drone accidents to the FAA within 10 days if an accident meets the definition of 14 CFR 107.9, and involves:

 (1) serious injury to any person or any loss of consciousness; or (2) damage to property (other than the unmanned aircraft) unless “the cost of repair (including labor and materials) does not exceed $500, or the fair market value of the property does not exceed $500 in the event of a total loss.”

Reporting to the NTSB is currently required when the accident results in death or “serious injury,” or when the drone weighs more than 300 pounds and has sustained substantial damage.  Now, the NTSB seeks to revise that definition to reflect the current drone industry.  As the FAA moves towards airworthiness certification for drones, the NTSB wants to replace the weight-based definition, instead referring to unmanned aircraft with an airworthiness certificate or airworthiness requirement.  “The weight threshold is no longer an appropriate criterion because unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) under 300 lbs. are operating in high-risk environments, such as beyond line-of-sight and over populated areas,” says the notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) published in the Federal Register.

The new definition will cover accidents that may occur during advanced operations like drone delivery: the NTSB says that the their investigative process could help improve drone safety.  “… a substantially-damaged delivery drone may uncover significant safety issues, the investigation of which may enhance aviation safety through the independent and established NTSB process,” says the notice. “This proposed definition change will treat a UAS with airworthiness certification or airworthiness approval in the same manner as a manned aircraft with airworthiness certification or airworthiness approval, thereby enabling the NTSB to immediately investigate, influence corrective actions, and propose safety recommendations.”

More accurate reporting could help the drone industry by highlighting how few drone accidents actually occur.  Brendan Schulman, Vice President of Policy and Legal Affairs at the world’s largest drone manufacturer, DJI, commented:

“While drones have the best safety record in aviation, with zero fatal accidents over an estimated 88 million flights per year, DJI, as one of the only drone companies to have been a party to an NTSB drone investigation, always welcomes the safety lessons that can be learned from an evidence-based investigation of any significant incident.”

Comments will close on the NPRM July 20, 2021.

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There is more to being a drone pilot than just buying a machine and flying in your backyard. It can be that simple, but most of us will need to understand some drone laws before we try to take to the sky.


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