Why AIB can’t operate drone at accident site in close proximity to airport-Olateru

  • Pioneers drone use for crash probe in W’A

 

Accident Investigation Bureau-Nigeria (AIB-N) has scored another first as the agency is pioneering the use of drones for accident investigation in the West African sub-region. The agency has already acquired 4Nos. MAVIC-2 Pro and 1No. Matrice 300 RTK DJI drones for this purpose.

While the acquisition of the machine is good news, the bad news is that the drone regulations by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) is at work-in progress level, which rarely separates commercial drone operators and non-commercial/ recreational operators.

The implication according to the Commissioner, Accident Investigation Bureau-Nigeria (AIB-N), Akin Olateru  is that a government agency like the AIB cannot operate its drones at accident sites in close proximity (5 miles) to the airport areas, which he said are tagged as NO-FLY-ZONE unless cleared on case-by-case basis by the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) and the NCAA.

 

Commissioner, Accident Investigation Bureau, Akin Olateru explaining some points on the acquisition of a drone by AIB to some Directors of NCAA at Airport Business Summit Expo

Obtaining the needed clearances upon occurrence of an accident, Olateru noted would take longer than desired time and keeping in mind that most aviation accidents occur around the airport area.

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This limitation, he noted would hamper “our ability to deploy the drones as soon as we arrive at the accident sites in the restricted zones, since the drones are programmed not to operate within the zone unless unlock codes are obtained. Our request to ONSA for permanent unlock authorization did not receive favorable response”.

Speaking at the Airport Business Summit Expo, the AIB-N chief said the acquisition of Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), otherwise known as drones would help to improve accident investigation by the agency.

Olateru said before now and in order to obtain the aerial images of accident sites, the Accident Investigation Authorities (AIAs) had to rely on police or search and rescue helicopters or go the more expensive way- charter helicopters, stressing that images obtained this way would not always capture the angle or details required, and more often than not, the images would take about a week more after the accident to arrive.

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The availability of relatively cheap off-the-shelve drones, he said, has opened new opportunities and the accident investigation sector is not left behind.

His words, “Accident investigators in aviation and other means of transportation have taken advantage of the aerial photo and video capturing technologies installed on small quadcopter to expedite their on-site tasks. Having the investigator at the control of the drone’s camera, all the angles and details that are needed can now be captured as required”.

“We have also trained quite a number of our accident investigators as pilots to operate the drones. Currently, we are undergoing certification process by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority to authorize us to operate the drones. In the meantime, we are conducting table top exercises using the drones preparatory to actual deployment to site when the call comes”, he added.

The use of drones in accident investigation, according to him is limitless, stressing that it not only offers a cheaper and faster deployment on arrival at accident site than helicopters, but also offers less interference on the site due to absence of significant downwash as compared with helicopters.

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“In addition, in-flight separation or breakup and mid-air collisions of aircraft are known to leave a huge trail of wreckage spread in wide geographical areas that might require thousands of man hours to process. However, a drone could do the same accurately under relatively shorter period of time with less human resource”.

Olateru further stated that drones have been found to be a very useful new tool at accident sites. They are very good for capturing the scene before we start disturbing it. They can be used to help us search for missing wreckage and to perform final flight path reconstruction/ visualizations.

Wole Shadare