Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) represent both an opportunity and a challenge for aviation risk management and safety auditing firm Wyvern. On the one hand, the commercial industry for unmanned aircraft is poised to explode in the U.S. and elsewhere; on the other hand, the industry is immature and undisciplined when it comes to benchmark safety practices.
U.S.-based Wyvern (Booth H069) has advised business aviation on safety best practices for more than two decades. It also now assesses vendor compliance with quality- and safety-management practices for end users of UAV services.
“They want to know when they’re going out and sourcing these vendors—do they meet a certain benchmark? These are [vendors] that have no experience for the most part,” said Wyvern CEO Art Dawley.
Until recently, there has been no regulation of commercial UAVs to help guide the industry, Dawley noted. But the situation will change in the U.S. once the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) releases its Part 107 final regulation for small unmanned aircraft systems. At a minimum, vendors of UAV services will have to comply with the regulation to gain access to the airspace; to be successful as accredited operators they will need to implement proven safety management processes.
“This is the challenge,” said Dawley, who spoke with AIN during the Xponential 2016 conference in New Orleans earlier this month. “We’re not working with aviation providers, number one,” he explained. “We found that in the acceptance, even the recognition, of these types of processes, most operators have no clue. Safety management is not even part of what they do. These are people who have never had to document and implement organizational policies, risk management processes—all these kinds of things.”
At the Xponential conference, which is sponsored by the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, Wyvern announced the launch of a safety assessment program for UAVs called EXACT, short for “Excellence through Assessment, Consistency and Training.” It provides a certification process for UAV operators benchmarked from the International Civil Aviation Organization’s Document 10019 Manual on Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems. The goal of the program is to both help UAV consumers “make informed decisions” about the vendors they use, and measure vendors’ “commitment to mitigate risk” in their operations.
EXACT “takes many of the processes that have become the focus of safety management for manned aircraft but recognizes and tailors to the unique challenges of unmanned operations,” the company says. The program’s UAV-specific standards and recommended practices address technical performance of operations from remote pilot stations, command and control datalink, support equipment, payload management and other areas.
Wyvern also announced the award of its first EXACT certification to RTI Forensics, a forensic investigation and engineering company based in Stevensville, Maryland. In June 2015, the FAA granted the company a commercial exemption to operate the DJI Phantom 2 Vision and Inspire 1 quadcopters for aerial data collection under its Section 333 process.
RTI Forensics uses small drones for property insurance, casualty investigation, infrastructure inspection and other purposes. “We see the EXACT certification as a key differentiator for us to demonstrate our strong commitment to safety, quality and reliability, benchmarked against industry best practices,” COO Jeremy Reynolds stated in a press release.
Wyvern developed the EXACT program after hearing from its business aviation clients, including “big corporate groups” such as General Electric, Boeing Flight Services and Disney, Dawley said. Asked if these companies planned to use unmanned aircraft, he replied: “They already were; they already are.” He observed that RTI’s use of drones in forensic investigations represents one of the many applications of unmanned aircraft.
“You name it—entertainment, pipeline patrol, search and rescue, real estate, law enforcement, the list goes on and on,” Dawley said. “The applications are never-ending.”
Meanwhile, Wyvern is continuing to develop its flagship Wingman audit program for business aircraft operators. Taking input from its customer advisory board, the company has revised the Wingman Standard to reflect the latest research on aviation safety and international regulations. Along with the EXACT program for UAV operations, Wingman constitutes the Wyvern Risk Management suite of services.
Wyvern also is looking to offer training for operators of both manned and unmanned aircraft. Much of the focus for the new Wyvern Aviation Training program is in the emerging markets of Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
The company, which is part of the Saudi Arabia-based Nexus group, also now offers a cloud-based information resource called Wyvern Aviation Intelligence. This is founded on its database of air charter operators, with specially developed search tools and additional data from both public and private sources.