Manned or Unmanned: Still Risk


A terrible tragedy this weekend as a Boeing 777 crashed in San Francisco on final approach.  Two young girls are reported deceased at this stage.

Which raises the perhaps obvious question to this forum: Are UAVs safe?

From a legal perspective, lawmakers and the public are not so sure.  On the one hand, the government has given the “cleared for takeoff” message to the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) to modernize the national airspace and integrate unmanned aerial vehicles as a trusted technology operable within the next few years.  On the other hand, the Asiana Airlines tragedy potentially reminds us of the ever-present dangers of pilot error.  To be clear, the causes of the 777 accident are undetermined at this point.  But imagine for a moment that pilot error was not a cause or contributing factor and imagine that the pilots did everything they could to avoid the accident.  It will be up to UAV industry to inspire the public that such avoidance is available in an unmanned environment.

All this said, it is not clear that UAVS enjoy a safety record remotely (no pun intended) close to airline safety in the United States. Some spirited language in this video.

It will be important to obtain pubic confidence if UAVs are to enjoy widespread use.  Make no mistake, there is a reason the movie “Snakes on Planes” resonated with people.  Flying is still a fundamental fear just below that of public speaking.