Sunday , 25 September 2022
Engr. Akin Olateru, Commissioner/CEO, Accident Investigation Bureau at the Nigerian Aviation Workforce Symposium held at the NAF Conference Centre Abuja.

AIB-N says it needs ONSA, NCAA clearance to operate drones in ‘no fly zones’

ACCIDENT Investigation Bureau (AIB) says it has already acquired 4Nos. MAVIC-2 Pro and 1No. Matrice 300 RTK DJI drones for the purpose pioneering the use of drones for accident investigation in the West African sub-region and is currently, undergoing certification process by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority to authorize it operate the drones

However, the foremost accident investigation agency has said that because of drone regulation process, it cannot operate its drones at accident sites in close proximity (5 miles) to the airport areas, which are tagged as ‘no-fly-zone’ without clearance.

Commissioner/CEO of Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) Engr. Akin Olateru made this known at the drone technology conference exhibition – Dronetecx 2021 holding at NIGAV Centre at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport where he broke down the limitations.

Olateru in his presentation on Drone Essence in Accident Investigations while speaking on challenges of drone technology in Nigeria said, “The drone Regulations by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) is at work-in progress level, which rarely separate between commercial drone operators and non-commercial/ recreational operators.

“The implication 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 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.

“Obtaining the needed clearances upon occurrence of an accident would take longer than desired time and keeping in mind that most aviation accidents occur around the airport area, this limitation will 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,” he said.

Olateru also said that another challenge of drone deployment by the AIB would be the need to maintain currency requirements by providing the necessary training to the pilots.

He also said that as the drone and camera technologies develop rapidly, the need for constantly upgrading the drones and the software components cannot be overemphasized.

According to him, these do not come cheap considering that you require high speed processing computers, large memory and storage to render the hundreds of images taken in a single operation.

Olateru said despite these challenges, Drone technology was a veritable tool at accident sites as they are good for capturing the scene before people start disturbing it and they can be used to help search for missing wreckage and to perform final flight path reconstruction/ visualizations.

According to him, in aircraft accident investigation, gathering and documentation of the evidences at accident sites are of paramount importance for accurate investigation to take place and experience shows that a lot of the evidences at accidents sites are perishable which can be destroyed easily if not documented on time.

He said,”A drone can be easily programmed to take a series of geo-tagged and overlapping overhead shots to create geo-referenced maps, and 3D models of an accident site. These are useful for both visualising the accident site, recording relative wreckage locations and for taking measurements.

“With commercially available off-the-shelve drones becoming more affordable and more advanced, we are definitely going to see an upsurge in their usage in accident investigations even in the less developed countries.”

Other advantages of drones include he also said it is imperative to quickly complete the wreckage documentation so as to free the runways to the airport authorities for necessary repairs to take place in order to reopen the runway for flight operations to resume.

He said,”The use of drones in accident investigation is limitless. 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.

“ 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.

He continued, “So far we have identified the following under listed uses of drones at accident sites: Wreckage and site survey, wreckage searches in difficult to access terrains, tree/ object heights and distances estimations using photogrammetry 3D images, site safety assessment limiting exposure of human to unknown risks, wreckage mapping and flight path reconstruction/ visualization.

On the advantages of using drones for accident investigation he pointed out,” Significantly lower cost of acquisition, operation and maintenance; immediate deployment on arrival at accident site, lLive streaming of the images and video, investigators have full control over the images and videos that are taken at the sites and can be flown close to trees and wreckage to obtain close-up images without disturbing them with rotor downwash.

“A drone can be easily re-launched to take additional footage, a drone can be easily programmed to take series of geo-tagged and overlapping overhead shots for photogrammetry purposes, drones can operate in low-visibility and low-cloud conditions that would prevent helicopter being operated and minimal time on site, reducing exposure to weather conditions.

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