Recently it has been announced that the FAA has granted a first-of-its-kind waiver for flying over people with a parachute and that a certain huge construction company has benefited from the ASTM 3322-18 (is there an FAA NOA?) standard and adequately addressed safety concerns at the FAA. Now, before you mom-and-pop (and sometimes daughter) operations think the flood gates are open for you too, understand that this cost everyone involved tens of thousands of dollars to make the magic happen.
Even before the FAA cut loose with this first, petitioners (lobbyist or consultants, but not including the CNN prototype aircraft and flight jackets) were told that there was only one brand of parachute to use when applying for the 107 waiver. And this was purportedly even before the Mitigator was on-board and/or left the FAA. Maybe it was because they had scientifically proven the claims (we know they need data), or the whole thing could just be purely coincidental—who knows? Not to worry; we’ll take a gander at the standards stuff a little later in the article.
I don’t want folks thinking I sound like a nitpicker, or that I am just some malcontent that is peddling his own wares, but the “ParaZero Mitigator” is the same stalwart who was at the wheel of the big FAA bus schedule when the 737 MAX was certified. Now I know what you’re saying: we shouldn’t condemn the whole program on a couple of slipups until all of the facts are in, and just because a few hundred foreigners met an early demise doesn’t mean that the lobbying should slow down or that we shouldn’t bend on the safety of the NAS for 251gram plus drones.
The only good news for the 737 MAX flying public is that ex-head of the UASIO is now heading up the Aircraft Certification Service. We have to assume he learned a boatload from the mistakes the UASIO made on the drone education cellphone app program failure and will apply those process lessons in his new position. Maybe the Aircraft Certification folks could benefit by emulating the success of “Buzzy the Drone” and conjure-up an equally adorable and relatable “Crashy the Airliner” character to help educate and inform foreign airline pilots about the shortcomings of aircraft manufacturer self-certification programs. In any event, we’ll see what comes out in the orders warsh at the Paris Air Show.
The following was submitted by a reader as an alternative view and unverified by us, as we have neither the money, time, or facilities to validate the findings. As always, we invite rebuttals as a way to engage in a dialogue that promotes a safer NAS for all.
In a hurry to meet the growing industry demand for safety solutions on drones, it appears corners are possibly being cut. ParaZero, a drone parachute system manufacturer based out of Israel, recently announced compliance of their Phantom 4 SafeAir parachute recovery system with the industry safety benchmark. But is it really compliant? For those new to the industry, the product was designed for the DJI Phantom 4 platform, which is one of, if not the highest, selling drones on the market and easily the most recognizable to the layperson. The ASTM F3322-18 standard is designed to test parachute recovery systems to ensure that the system is reliable and fully tested in all failure conditions of the drone platform. Achieving compliance with the standard is intended to help commercial pilots expand their business operations by obtaining an “elusive” waiver for flight over people.
There is a problem: the ParaZero SafeAir Phantom 4 system does not properly activate in the most probable failure scenario of the DJI Phantom 4, a single motor/propeller failure. The industry is quickly discovering that the system is unable to detect this type of failure on the very aircraft that it was designed for…and is a failure profile that the standard tests for. If ParaZero thoroughly tested their product, they would have known this defect exists, which means one of two things: either they did not thoroughly test the SafeAir Phantom 4 product, or they knew of this defect and modified the testing parameters of their ASTM compliance testing in order to ensure their product would pass testing (the product was tested by an Israeli testing agency).
In a time where the news cycle motto of “if it bleeds, it leads” is evermore prevalent, one can see how a bloody propeller strike with possible blunt force trauma will severely punish the entire industry, especially when there was a safety system on board that failed.
When a company puts dollars before safety, the industry as a whole suffers – and more seriously, people tend to get injured or killed. We have seen this before with large companies like Takata’s failed airbag inflator recall and most recently the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft’s faulty flight controller, which has now been implicated in two fatal plane crashes, killing all 347 people on board. These companies severely missed the mark when it came to public safety.
So, as the expression goes, there is an elephant in the room, an elephant in the form of a safety company selling a product that is not able to function in the most probable failure condition, on the most widely distributed and easily accessible drone aircraft, with the intent to allow for flight over people—this has disaster written all over it. As companies and businesses across the industry are moving towards expanded complex operations, people’s lives, property, and business reputations are all at risk because corners were cut.
Furthermore, the commercial drone industry has forgotten the lessons of its recent past.
Veterans of the drone industry may remember a product called DJI DropSafe. The product was introduced about five years ago and was highly marketed for a very short time before DJI quickly and quietly pulled the product in a matter of months. The DJI DropSafe did not work.
The design flaw was that it would deploy and cause the parachute to fly right back into the propellers of the aircraft in most failure scenarios. The DJI DropSafe was designed by ParaZero and is shown below.
The photo below is the new ParaZero SafeAir product:
The DJI DropSafe and the new but similar ParaZero SafeAir M200 and M600 systems operate off the same basic design and functionality. The main difference is that the DJI Dropsafe used a CO 2 cartridge and the ParaZero SafeAir uses a pyrotechnic charge to deploy the parachute. It is evident that the new ParaZero SafeAir system still uses the same deployment method as the DJI Dropsafe.
So how can a safety company that has duped the industry since its inception honestly look consumers in the face and sell products to them that puts lives at danger? The reality is that few consumers have the ability to properly test a parachute safety system against real failure scenarios in the same manner that an average person cannot test their car airbag: it is just too expensive. The parachute safety system has to work; there are no second chances at saving life below.