Flying an aircraft comes with risks, and with a mission to save lives and do good, we value keeping those around us safe from preventable accidents. To do so, we apply very strict technical and operational rules. In case an accident does happen, we immediately start to investigate the occurrence and determine both the root cause and potential future risks to Avy and our clients’ operations.
Safety within Avy
Safety is one of the highest priorities in aviation. As a pioneer within sustainable aviation, we’re constantly aware of the risks and take safety very seriously. Being a drone manufacturer and operator, our efforts are guided by the EASA (European Union Aviation Safety Agency) regulations and the SORA (Specific Operations Risk Assessment) approach.
When designing and building an aircraft, safety is always our number one priority. Avy uses the Safety-by-Design principle as a starting point and incorporates the FMEA(Failure Mode and Effect Analysis) to guide the design process. This is a process of reviewing all components, assemblies and subsystems to identify potential failure modes in the aircraft and their causes and effects.
Operations are taken seriously at Avy. We use ISO 9001 and AS 9100 as the inspiration for quality management and standard procedures. The SORA framework is what guides us to safely create, evaluate and conduct our operations at Avy. This approach is a multistage process of risk analysis for unmanned aircraft operations that helps to define necessary mitigations and levels of robustness.
Once technical and operational mitigations have been secured, the aircraft has proven to be high in robustness and is safe for operations. Once finally in the field, a pre-flight check is conducted by the pilot and co-pilot that are operating the mission.
How we execute safety in operations
The Safety Management System at Avy encourages all employees to report safety occurrences throughout our operations. Avy strongly believes in a culture where continuous learning is key. This culture of transparency in a safe environment is a pivotal tool to contribute to a safe performance of the flight operations. Any reports are immediately brought to the attention of Avy’s Safety Manager (SM) to investigate the occurrence and determine both the root cause and potential future risks to Avy and our clients operations.
For instance, during a flight last year it became apparent that a failure had occurred. The Avy flight crew began emergency procedures and attempted to land the aircraft safely. Unfortunately, the drone wasn’t responsive and ended up in an uncontrolled descent.
Thanks to the extensive preparation, practice and training that goes into each and every flight, the flight crew were able to take control of the situation after landing; securing and recovering the aircraft and making sure the authorities and Avy’s Operations Manager were informed immediately
Once the cause of the occurrence has been determined and mitigations established, a safety report will be published and made available to all Aera operators. The investigation for this safety report starts at the scene, and the flight crew is always ready to document and make objective observations to aid the investigation of incidents. This is what we call the ‘operational investigation’.
In the case of this accident, technical investigations started when the drone was brought back to our HQ in Amsterdam. The engineering team that started the incident investigation aimed at identifying the root cause of the incident and the corresponding required mitigations. The bowtie method, starting from the observed consequence, is followed as much as possible.
Avy embraces our failures and treats them as an opportunity to improve and become safer. One of the lessons learned from the accident last year is the need for improved quality standards for drone components. Over a long history of operations and failures, manned aviation has developed quality standards for parts suppliers that are not yet available in the drone industry. Operational life expectancy and inspection intervals for parts are not available as they would be for airline operators.
Until supply quality assurances are available, Avy has decided to take this on internally. We have taken a conservative approach to our inspection intervals and all our components are stress tested on-site in our affectionately named “torture chamber”. We see these improvements as a part of our overall increased investment in our Safety Management System that will make our aircraft safe and reliable.
On some occasions the root cause of an occurrence is not readily apparent. In such cases Avy will take a conservative approach and apply temporary mitigations or restrictions to operations until a cause determination is made. In the case of accidents and serious incidents where the root cause is not readily apparent or displays a high probability of recurrence, the SM will issue a grounding directive to all Aera operators until the cause can be determined.
Implementing a Safety Management System (SMS) at a drone company comes with many challenges. This growing industry has evolved from amateur hobbyists with suppliers not accustomed to the performance standards that are well established in classical aviation. Years of safety management have made flying one of the safest modes of transportation, but how do the previous lessons learned apply to aircraft flown from the comfort of an office? The team at Avy are doing their best to overcome these challenges. Our approach favours a SMS closer to that of manned aviation and may be considered overly cautious in an industry known for the tech method of “go fast and break things”. Avy’s mission is to save lives and do good, For us that includes keeping those around us safe from preventable accidents. In the end we build aircrafts, not toys.