A recent alleged “drone” collision with a British Airways Airbus A320 at Heathrow Airport highlighted the need to understand civil Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) accidents and incidents (events). This understanding will facilitate improvements in safety by ensuring efforts are focused to reduce the greatest risks. One hundred and fifty two RPAS events were analyzed. The data was collected from a 10-year period (2006 to 2015). Results show that, in contrast to commercial air transportation (CAT), RPAS events have a significantly different distribution when categorized by occurrence type, phase of flight, and safety issue. Specifically, it was found that RPAS operations are more likely to experience (1) loss of control in-flight, (2) events during takeoff and in cruise, and (3) equipment problems. It was shown that technology issues, not human factors, are the key contributor in RPAS events. This is a significant finding, as it is contrary to the industry view which has held for the past quarter of a century that human factors are the key contributor (which is still the case for CAT). Regulators should therefore look at technologies and not focus solely on operators.
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