Drone pilots face peril from every direction. If the pilot is careless or unfortunate, the drone could crash to the ground.
A pilot’s drone might be contaminated by even a slight drizzle and sent soaring straight into a tree.
Almost anybody who makes living flying drones has seen at least one such occurrence, in which a drone has crashed, been lost, or otherwise failed to perform as expected. Drone pilots face threats from all directions.
A drone can crash to the ground if the pilot is inexperienced or just presses the wrong button. A pilot’s drone might be contaminated by even a slight drizzle and sent soaring straight into a tree.
Almost anybody who pilots drones professionally has seen at least one instance in which a drone crashed, got lost, or had some other sort of technical problem.
The Uk’s Approach to Drone Crash Data
When it comes to recording and investigating drone-related events, some nations are far more diligent than others.
For instance, the general public in the United Kingdom has access to a wealth of information regarding the possibility of being struck by a drone.
Investigation reports detailing incidents using tiny drones are regularly made public by the UK Air Accidents Investigation Branch AAIB. Regulation EU 996 requires “any individual concerned” in a UK aircraft accident or significant incident to notify the Aircraft Accident Investigation Branch AAIB.
Accidents involving Unmanned Aircraft Systems can be defined broadly to include any incident in which the aircraft sustains damage other than to its propeller blades.
In cases where a pilot is unsure whether or not an accident should be reported, they are nonetheless strongly encouraged to do so.
The most current monthly bulletin from the AAIB, covering the month of September, includes 19 cases in which drone pilots reported an accident.
British media jumped on the story, making fun of public safety agencies that, in a notoriously rainy country, bought drones apparently prone to malfunctioning when exposed to damp conditions.
There is some debate as to whether these failures were due to technical issues or unrealistically high expectations of the drone’s performance in rain.
Due to the availability of AAIB data, the UK media frequently covers incidents involving drones, such as the one that occurred in January 2021, when a police drone pilot with only 6 hours of training was granted complete control of a nearly $70,000 Aeryon SkyRanger drone.
It now rests at the bottom of a pond after he accidentally clicked the wrong button.
A Paucity of Data on U.S. Drone Crashes
However, in the United States, there are significantly fewer media and government sources that report on issues involving drone safety.
Media outlets in the United Kingdom frequently cover incidents involving public safety drones, whereas, in the United States, such coverage is rare.
However, despite my best efforts, I was only able to find a small number of relevant publications, and most of those were published in the early 2010s, long after it had been generally lawful for public safety organizations to deploy drones.
Government statistics on drone accidents in the United States are either incomplete or nonexistent. The fact that there is no information about drone crashes is not because they are not being flown by civilians and police departments in the United States.
The Center for Research on the Drone estimates that by 2020, 1,578, primarily police, and public safety agencies will have their own unmanned aircraft system. That translates to a massive purchase of drones for use by law enforcement.
Presumably, the vast majority are regularly taking to the skies. And yet, there appears to be a peculiar cone of silence around any crashes or malfunctions that might occur on those outings, both in the media and in official records.
Let’s look back at how the DJI Matrice 210 performed in the rain yet again. In the United States, consumers have shown a clear preference for DJI goods, particularly the Matrice 210.
Experts estimate that DJI has a 90% monopoly on the North American drone market, despite the fact that the business doesn’t disclose its sales figures publicly.
Additionally, they are widely used by government agencies and public safety organizations: The vast majority of drone pilots in the Center for Research on the Drone’s 2020 study flew DJI models rather than those from other manufacturers.
It’s safe to assume that despite the best efforts of its owners, DJI Matrice drones will occasionally crash or break. We can also presume that it rains in the United States on occasion.
It’s logical to suppose that U.S. public safety drone pilots are just as prone to making mistakes as their British counterparts. Surely there must be news of Matrice’s 210s in the United States meeting the same tragic fate as their British counterparts.
Despite this, I was only able to locate two accounts, one from a local newspaper and the other from a blog post, on DJI Matrice 210 crashes involving public safety pilots in the United States.