The National Transportation Safety Board has confirmed that the pilot of the UAV that collided with an Army helicopter last September was responsible for the crash. The incident occurred on Sept. 21, 2017, when a DJI Phantom 4 drone crashed into the helicopter over Staten Island, New York. The helicopter sustained damage to its main rotor blade, window frame and transmission deck, but was able to land safely. The drone was destroyed in the crash.
In its report, the NTSB cited the drone pilot’s general lack of knowledge of FAA regulations and safe practices as a major contributing factor in the crash. The agency stated that the pilot was “unconcerned” about flying the aircraft beyond visual line of sight, and relied on “the app” to tell him it what to do.
“He did not indicate that he was aware of the significance of flying beyond line of sight and again stated that he relied on the app display,” the report explains. “He said he did not see or hear the flight of helicopters involved in the collision but said that helicopters fly in the area all the time.”
The operator stated he had “a lot of” experience flying UAVs. His data logs showed he had completed 38 flights in the preceding 30 days. However, he had completed no formal training “other than the tutorials included in the DJI GO4 operating application.” Data logs also revealed that at least one of the pilot’s UAVs had flown at an altitude of 547 feet, well above the 400-foot maximum allowed by the FAA.
Implications for Manufacturers and Resellers?
While the NTSB placed the blame for this mid-air collision squarely on the shoulders of the recreational operator, its statement that the “sUAS pilot’s incomplete knowledge of the regulations and safe operating practices,” contributed to the incident may have left the door open for future product liability claims. Although there was no indication that the drone was defective — the agency stated that there was “no evidence of any mechanical or software problems with the sUAS relevant to the flight” — the issue of a “marketing defect” is still up in the air.
Marketing defects are “flaws in the way a product is marketed, such as improper labeling, insufficient instructions, or inadequate safety warnings,” says Findlaw. And liability can apply even when a product is, by its nature, “unavoidably unsafe.” In other words, the operator of a drone is responsible for its safe operation. But the law says that “manufacturers and suppliers…must give proper warnings of the dangers and risks of their products so that consumers can make informed decisions” when using them.
Fortunately, serious incidents involving UAVs have been thus far infrequent. The first reported collision between a commercial aircraft and a drone in North America occurred in Canada in October 2017. And the FAA reports no such collisions in the United States to date. But if the number of recreational operators grows as expected, the chances that an inexperienced, under-educated pilot will cause property damage or bodily injuries is increasing every day.
Will the vendors in the supply chain of the drones involved be held liable for such incidents? As of now, no one knows.
At the Carmoon Group, we offer UAV businesses a full suite of insurance protections against all kinds of risk. With over 20 years in the insurance industry, we have the knowledge, experience and expertise to meet your needs. So, why not give us a call today to schedule an appointment for an insurance review? Or, if you can’t call right now, just reach out online and we’ll get back to you at a convenient time.