Avy official: This is why drones are safe

To anyone, safety is the most basic principle of flying. One will go into an Airbus A330 without a doubt in their mind that they will reach their destination. When talking about drones, however, safety concerns start popping up, with some people especially worrying that drones will be invasive once integrated into airspace.

But, as with all disruptive technologies, such concerns are not new, and it is the duty of drone companies to demonstrate to the public the value of drone technologies to their everyday operations, as well as the safety measures involved.

Avy won the safety award during the Lake Kivu Challenge, a global drone competition held in Rwanda in February this year Rwanda, putting drone operators and manufacturers in real-life scenarios with beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) flights to deliver medical goods to an island.

According the company’s marketing and communications manager, Manon Taylor, the award was no fluke.

“We’re proud that our Avy Aera was recognised as the safest aircraft, as well as the safety protocols led by our Avy team on the ground,” wrote Taylor in the first instalment of a three-part series of what security means to the company’s operations.

“We’re aware that drones may be considered risky, which is why safety is taken seriously and a core value at Avy. Being a drone manufacturer and operator, our efforts are guided by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) regulations and the Specific Operations Risk Assessment (SORA) approach, a multistage process of risk analysis for unmanned aircraft operations, that helps to define necessary mitigations and levels of robustness. This combination of aircraft design and operations governs the requirements for Avy as an organisation and brings added value to the thought process behind every aircraft, such as the “Safety by Design principle”.

SORA is a regulatory framework established by the EASA with applicable limitations and operational restrictions, that ensures the drone is safe for operations.

Amsterdam-based Avy develops Beyond the Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) drones for the delivery of emergency medical supplies, and it recently received €1.4 million in investment from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 programme to expand its operations into the rest of Europe and beyond. They are currently on a recruitment drive for top talent, but no doubt they will be directing some of those funds towards boosting flight safety, given they would be operating in a health industry that requires government compliance in most countries.

“Our operations are subject to compliance,” said Taylor. “We have applicable limitations, technical requirements and operational restrictions to follow. From a technical point of view, safety is the benchmark for our whole design process and number one variable when building the aircraft.

“Avy uses the Safety-by-Design principle as a starting point and incorporates the FMEA (Failure Mode and Effect Analysis) to guide along the design process. It’s a process of reviewing all components, assemblies, and subsystems to identify potential failure modes in the aircraft and their causes and effects. As stated by Benjamin van der Hilst, Chief technology Officer at Avy:

“We’ve come across potential failure modes and had to learn it the hard way. Early on in our design process we made many mistakes. Building an aircraft is hard, and a simple mistake can cost you a drone. We’ve lost prototypes over not wiring things correctly or not properly communicating over a change in software. We test in a secluded area, we crash, and we learn. We know mistakes happen, but now have the checks and balances in place throughout our design, manufacturing and flight testing procedures to catch those mistakes. We also assume failure of components, but design for other systems to take over their functionality, so that a single failure cannot directly lead to a crash.”

Taylor further explained that his company incorporated FMEA and the SORA framework into their design frameworks to gauge the risk of their drones failing.

To guarantee airworthiness, Taylor said his company employs the redundancy method, where every component critical for flight safety like elevons, propulsion systems and Command and Control systems have a dormant double for each drone, which will automatically kick on if the regular part fails with the drone mid-air.

Said Taylor; “A future with drones is inevitable, and public perception is everything to drive this forward. Our goal is to prove that drones can be used to help and contribute to lifesaving missions in a sustainable way. We partner up with trusted operators that have gained experience over decades and learn from them because we understand that drones may be seen as risky.”


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