A slow-moving issue regarding DJI M200 series aircraft is taking shape and picking up some speed. About two weeks ago I wrote about my own experience with TB55 batteries failing. See this post. The situation is evolving into two categories. The first is a total power loss in flight and the second is instantly dead or unrecognized batteries.
Of the three batteries, I’ve had fail, one failed in flight, thankfully not bringing the aircraft down. The other two were part of different pairs, had completed a flight, charged, and now appear to be dead to DJI software. They have about 30 charge cycles on them. What is odd is they both failed at the exact same time. Requests for troubleshooting information via DJI support requests has not resulted in any explanation why this is happening.
In a strange quirk, one of my failed batteries has suddenly come back to life and is being recognized by the M210 again. But for how long?
All of my experienced failures happened after a software and firmware update.
I’ve heard from three public safety agencies that had batteries fail in flight. One agency told me, “We had a catastrophic failure of the batteries in our Matrice 210 on its maiden flight. DJI replaced it but it appears it was a battery problem.”
Another agency that contacted me actually has a video of the in-flight failure and has given me permission to share it with you.
Below is a video with three example of DJI battery failures in it, including the Robertson crash.
Here in the United States, the FAA does not certify our UAS aircraft. With FAA certified aircraft there is a process in place to alert aircraft owners, pilots, and maintenance crews of potential safety issues. UAS are not a part of that process in the United States and elsewhere.
More Pictures of Crashed Matrice Series Aircraft From battery Failures
Here are more pictures of Matrice 200 series aircraft that have lost power and fallen out of the air.
I’ll Share My Recommendations at the End of This Post
However, the Civilian Aviation Authority in the UK did just put out a warning notice.
Civil Aviation Authority
Small Unmanned Aircraft
DJI Matrice 200 Series In-Flight Power Failures
This Safety Notice contains recommendations regarding operational safety.
Recipients must ensure that this Notice is copied to all members of their staff who need to take appropriate action or who may have an interest in the information (including any ‘in-house’ or contracted maintenance organisations and relevant outside contractors).
1.1 This Safety Notice applies to operators of the DJI Matrice 200 series multi-rotor small unmanned aircraft.
1.2 A small number of incidents have been recently reported where the aircraft has suffered a complete loss of power during flight, despite indications that there was sufficient battery time still remaining. In each case, this resulted in the aircraft falling directly to the ground due to the immediate loss of lift with the remote pilot unable to control its subsequent flight path. The small unmanned aircraft (SUA) were damaged upon impact, but the CAA has not received any reports of injuries to people or property.
1.3 The full details of the occurrences are still being investigated by the manufacturer.
1.4 The purpose of this Safety Notice is to highlight the requirement for the SUA operator and/or remote pilot to be reasonably satisfied that the flight can be safely made (Air Navigation Order 2016 (ANO) article 94(2)) and to temporarily limit the scope of any operational authorisations, issued to operators of the DJI Matrice 200 series where ‘reduced distances’, and ’extended visual line of sight’ (EVLOS) have been permitted.
Compliance/Action to be Taken
2.1 This Safety Notice requires the following actions to be taken:
a) Battery firmware updates
i) Updating the SUA to the latest manufacturer’s firmware should be completed using the “DJI Assistant 2” software. The software will identify the firmware version of every component and prompt the “update message” if any component is not with the latest version. This can also be identified if there is a “-“ (dash symbol) next to the aircraft firmware version number.
ii) The TB50 and TB55 batteries need to be updated using DJI Assistant 2 and can only be updated in pairs. This means that if the user has 10 batteries, he/she will need to perform the update five times, plugging the batteries into the aircraft, and running DJI Assistant 2 every time.
iii) After any software or firmware updates, the aircraft must be flight tested in sterile conditions away from uninvolved third parties, to ensure it is working correctly. It is recommended that each pair of batteries is flight tested. This must be recorded in the operator’s maintenance log book as applicable.
b) Provisional Suspension of Operations
i) In accordance with Air Navigation Order article 257 and 257(2)(c), operators of a DJI Matrice 200 are hereby directed not to fly or permit any flight that involves overflight of any persons at any height until further notice.
ii) In accordance with Air Navigation Order article 253, any element of a permission based on an Operational Safety Case (OSC), issued by the CAA to an SUA operator which permits the operation of a DJI Matrice 200 series SUA to be operated:
• within 50 metres of any persons;
• within 50 metres of any, vessel, vehicle or structure which is not under the control of the SUA Operator or remote pilot of the SUA;
• over or within 150 metres of an open air assembly of more than 1,000 persons; or
• using EVLOS
is provisionally suspended until further notice.
iii) These limitations will be subject to regular review. As soon as further updates are obtained from the manufacturer, and the CAA is satisfied that the current issues have been satisfactorily addressed, the CAA will issue a further update via the SkyWise alerts portal on the CAA website.
c) Emergency Services Operations
i) Due to the unique nature of emergency services operations, the privileges contained within General Exemption E 4506 (ORS4 No. 1233) may continue to be exercised whilst using the Matrice 200 series, provided that the potential risks highlighted in this Safety Notice have been considered within the decision to proceed and the overflight of uninvolved persons is minimised. – Source
There are two paths of thought here. The first is for anyone or any agency flying under a COA and the second is for Part 107 pilots.
Under a COA, where the COA holder is supposed to exercise a level of professional aviation operations like a commercial aviation entity, I would immediately ground all Matrice 200 series aircraft. Knowing this risk is out there seems it would be indefensible if flight operations continued and an injury occurred as a result of it. It’s like a known issue grounds aircraft until it is resolved.
Part 107 pilots need to exercise their own individual judgment as certificated pilots. We know all Part 107 pilots must exercise good judgment and bear personal liability and responsibility when flying.
Personally, if my fire department approved flight and was willing to accept the damage to the aircraft if insurance did not cover it as a known problem, then I might continue to fly in an emergency situation where the aircraft could deliver a resource not otherwise available. For example, delivering a life vest to a drowning person. Flight over any people, including public safety participants should be avoided at all costs.
As a manned and unmanned aircraft pilot my gut reaction is to always evaluate the risk versus the reward of any flight. If you are not willing to accept the personal risk and liability of flight until the battery issue is resolved, then just don’t fly regardless of what your agency or department says.
You can never forget the Federal Aviation Regulation 91.3 – “The pilot in command of an aircraft is directly responsible for, and is the final authority as to, the operation of that aircraft.” That actually applies to both COA and Part 107 pilots.
I’m not going to tell you what you should personally do. Whatever that is, just make sure it is based on defensible logic to reduce your personal liability.
At the very least we need a better understanding of why this is happening so we can make at least an informed decision when it comes to weighing the risk of flight. Right now there is no risk clarity.
I’ll post something once the issue is understood better or resolved.
Hopefully, DJI will stand behind all of the batteries if the cause is found to be a hardware or software defect in the battery. Let’s hope they come clean because I’d hate to have three TB55 batteries that are dead for no reason and no local fault when the problem may have been caused by a software and/or firmware issue.
DJI Information on Issue
DJI Statement, “DJI is aware of a small number of reports involving drones in the Matrice 200 series that have lost power mid-flight. Flight safety and product reliability are top priorities. Our engineers are thoroughly reviewing each customer case and working to address this matter urgently.
DJI products are tested for thousands of hours, and the overwhelming number of customers enjoy using our products with minimal disruption.
We are looking to implement additional safeguards. When prompted on the DJI Pilot App, we recommend all customers to connect to the internet on the app or DJI Assistant 2 and update the firmware for their aircraft and all batteries to ensure a safe flight with their drone.”
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