The Commissioner/Chief Executive Officer, Accident Investigation Bureau, Nigeria (AIB-N), Engr. Akin Olateru has stated that it has acquired two Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), also known as drones that are undergoing clearance the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) and the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) before the agency can operate them.
The drones according to him are : 4Nos. MAVIC-2 Pro and 1No. Matrice 300 RTK DJI and that the drones will be use to pioneer accident investigation in the West African sub-region.
The AIB- Nigeria boss, who disclosed this while presenting a paper, titled, ” Drone Essence in Accident Investigations” at the just concluded UAV Technology Conference Exhibition – Dronetecx 2021 at NIGAV Centre at the Murtala Muhammed Airport(MMA),Lagos, added that the equipment is currently, undergoing certification process by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority(NCAA) to authorise the agency to operate the AUVs.
Olateru stated that despite the importance of drones, it has its own regulation processes and that 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.
According to him, “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.”
He continued, “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.”
Olateru said that the drone Regulations by NCAA is at work-in progress level, which according to him rarely separate between commercial drone operators and non-commercial/ recreational operators.
He stated that the need to maintain currency requirements by providing the necessary training to the pilots is one of the challenge of UAV operation by the accident investigation body.
The AIB boss contended that because the UAV and camera technologies develop rapidly, there is the need to constantly upgrade the drones and the software components, adding that these does not come cheap considering the fact that you require high speed processing computers, large memory and storage to render the hundreds of images taken in a single operation.
He concluded that despite these challenges, UAV technology is a veritable tool at accident sites, as they are good for capturing the scene before people tampers with it, stressing that it can also be used to search for missing wreckage and to perform final flight path reconstruction/ visualizations.
The AIB-N boss pointed out that in aircraft accident investigation, gathering and documentation of the evidences at accident sites are of paramount for accurate investigation to take place and that experience have shown that a lot of the evidences at accidents sites are perishable if not documented on time.
In his words, “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.”
“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 down-wash 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 said.