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Safe Flying Tips

© Sky News

useful tips for safe flying based on our experience.

Secure your FAA Remote Pilot certificate.  It is required for all commercial operations, including those conducted on behalf of your employer or business. Plus, you will learn many useful concepts and develop the knowledge to conduct safer and compliant flight operations.

Practice. There is no substitute for experience. Gain experience by regularly practicing flying your drone, both manually and leveraging onboard systems such as GPS-assisted flight modes.  Practice conducting data collection missions that align with your services, flight planning, and image processing. Get familiar with your equipment and processes and follow best practices.

Document everything. Not only are many records federally required under FAA rules, such as flight logs, tracking this information can help you maintain your equipment, monitor for unsafe practices, manage risks, and keep you flying. Things to track: aircraft registrations, flights, battery usage and recharges, equipment use/damage, weather conditions, software and firmware versions and updates.

Make checklists and use them. The fastest way to derail a flight mission is to forget an item or a step, or find out after the fact that your images didn't turn out as expected. Conducting safe and effective flight operations involves many elements and relying on memory alone dramatically increases the risk of failure.  Make a checklist for planning a mission, make a pre-departure checklist for packing your equipment specific to the mission, make a checklist for preflight inspections and postflight steps, and any other process you may have.

Bring backups or replacement parts. Many operators will bring spare propellers or batteries to their flight missions, but don’t forget about other critical equipment such as storage cards, cables, backup controllers, or radios, and always check your controllers and aircraft prior to departure for the latest firmware and software updates and recalibrate your sensors. Make sure backup parts are on your pre-departure checklist.

Plan your flight locations. Ideally, visit the flight location in advance of mission planning so you can assess and address all the hazards. Look for indicators of hidden hazards like rolling hills or high tree lines that create turbulence, or hazards such as power-lines, microwave towers that interfere with radio systems, and structures. Determine the height and location of these hazards and plan your flight safety systems, such as geofencing and return-to-home settings to address them. Be aware that you as the pilot are responsible of ensuring the safety of all persons and property on the ground, whether you can see them or not.

Set boundaries. Define boundaries for go/no-go situations and stick to them. Define geofencing settings before you fly, confirm them in the field, and adjust them if something arises. Deciding when to fly and when not to fly, or when to abort and reconduct a mission, should not be an ambiguous decision. Don’t let external pressures push you to make unsafe decisions.

Always keep an eye on the weather. Experienced pilots know that weather reports are only a suggestion. Conditions in the field may change dramatically and can turn a good flying day to a disaster.  Hot weather increases turbulence risks and cold weather often impacts battery life.  It is the pilot in command's responsibility to conduct safe flight operations and monitoring the weather is part of that responsibility.

If something isn’t right, stop immediately. Nothing fixes itself in the air. If something doesn’t sound right on the ground during pre-flight checks, don’t fly. If the weather changes to an unsafe condition, land as soon as it is safe.

Bring a crew member. Between juggling a flight controller, operating a payload, monitoring for hazards and weather conditions, and scanning for air traffic, it can be challenging to try to do it all at an appropriate level. Having a trained observer or crew member can help ensure smooth and safe operations, especially for more complex flight operations such as commercial video production.

Have insurance. No one wants to damage their aircraft or property on the ground, but things happen that sometimes are beyond the pilot's control, even with the best planning.  Flight system glitches, radio interference, flyaways, or other events can result in loss of property or damage to the property of others.  Add the presence of people to the mix and your risk escalates.  Always fly with active insurance coverage and recognize that property loss and liability are different risk coverages.  Know your policy terms so you understand the risks for which you are potentially liable. 

Secure required airspace clearances. As the pilot in command, you are responsible for observing and complying with national airspace regulations.  Always check your location on sectional maps and flight services to determine what clearances are required and secure them before you fly.  Even if you possess an FAA waiver, always check for temporary flight restrictions or other limiting factors. Take advantage of the many mobile applications that can help you understand the rules in effect for your flight location, such as B4Ufly or Airmap.

Pause and consider all the risks before you fly. Damage to your aircraft is only one of many aspects to consider. Consider the payload, consider potential damage to other’s property, consider secondary effects such as causing an auto accident when your aircraft crashes in the middle of a road.  Never rush getting into the air, even with careful planning.

Don't drink and fly.  Alcohol and flying simply don't mix.  

Don't fly tired.  When you are tired or exhausted you simply don't have the same eye-hand coordination required for safe flying and your judgment won't be as sharp.


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