MassDOT Showcases Innovation at Drone Safety Day
MassDOT Showcases Innovation at Drone Safety Day
July 1, 2024
By Miriam McNabb

The MassDOT Aeronautics Division hosted their first public-facing Drone Safety Day, showcasing the innovation, technology and safety culture that the department has developed to deliver a wide variety of drone services across the state.

Held at the agency’s UAS training field, the event featured speakers and pilots discussing the broad range of applications that MassDOT addresses.  From counting gulls with the Department of Conservation and Recreation to infrastructure inspection or the development of counter UAS programs at airports across the state, MassDOT has taken a leadership role in using uncrewed systems to manage and maintain a complex transportation infrastructure.

The FAA developed the annual Drone Safety Day to educate drone fliers about safety and regulations.  MassDOT has an impressive safety record, with a program developed by former Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Robin Grace and now led by veteran pilot and Director of UAS Operations Chris Grazioso.  The program combines a strong safety culture with an approach that balances communication, technology, and a respect for regulations.

Robin Grace explains that the safety culture she learned in the Air Force was centered on the open sharing of information, without reprisals or blame.  This focus on accurate incident reporting allows the agency to identify trends about issues in particular locations or with specific equipment, enabling them to continuously improve their protocols.  Grace’s team agrees that the culture of safety “goes from top to bottom” in the organization.

Grazioso says that his team balances their approach to safety.  Communication with the team and with other state and federal agencies, including the FAA, is key.  Each mission is planned carefully, evaluated for risk, and discussed with the team.  While the department boasts a wide variety of aircraft and a BVLOS waiver, Grazioso says that team is trained to never rely solely on technology for safety.  “The experience of the operator is also important,” he says.  A detailed knowledge of regulations, and close communication with regulators, has also helped the team to continue to expand their program while maintaining their safety record.

Massachusetts is a state with tremendous resources, home to some of the country’s top universities and research centers.  With MassDOT Aeronautic’s innovative drone program, the state is demonstrating how new technology can provide real benefit for residents across the Commonwealth – and working to establish standards that will help all states to follow suit.

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