The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) has commenced a transport safety investigation into the control issues and collision with water of a swarm of remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS, or drones) overhead Docklands, Melbourne on Friday evening.

During a drone light show over water, multiple aircraft within a swarm of 500 RPAS experienced un-commanded movement. This resulted in multiple errors presenting on the ground control station, failsafe mode activations and collisions between RPAS and with water. One RPAS briefly escaped the defined geo-fence area, before control was taken by the operator. Approximately 440 RPAS were destroyed.

These aircraft and displays have multiple defences in place to limit risk to operators, spectators and bystanders. In this case, several of these defences were used.

Nonetheless, the ATSB is aware of the increased frequency and scale of ‘drone swarm’ operations in Australia, primarily for entertainment purposes. As such, it is important we take the opportunity to review the factors involved in this accident, to ensure these operations remain safe.

The ATSB asks anyone who may have video footage of the swarm display on Friday night to make contact via at their earliest opportunity.

The ATSB will publish a final report, detailing contributing factors and any identified safety issues, at the conclusion of the investigation.

However, should any critical safety issues be identified at any stage during the course of the investigation, the ATSB will immediately notify relevant parties so appropriate safety action can be taken.

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