Skyward recently spoke with Andrew Dennison, chief operating officer of LIFT Technologies – which works primarily on construction and surveying projects and is a division of Clayco Inc. – on the company’s workflow. The following are 12 steps to safe, efficient drone operations.
Before the operation
1. Understand your client deliverables.
Find out the client’s goal for the project – what he or she is expecting. Ask questions, in person or over the phone, and then email a bulleted list for confirmation.
Create an official scope of work that includes the exact specifications and deliverables. Once the client has signed off on the scope of work, you’re ready to start planning.
2. Check the airspace.
Pilots at LIFT check the airspace as the first step of the job plan: For commercial drone operators, meeting regulatory requirements is part of doing business.
“We use Skyward to see where the job is located and what type of airspace we’re dealing with,” Andrew says. “We’ve had several instances where a job site hasn’t been covered by our blanket COA, and we’ve had to tell the client that we can’t fly until we are approved for a civil COA.”
3. Schedule the date and time of the flight, including the operator and observer.
It may sound obvious, but if your business has dozens of flights per week at far-flung job sites, your ops can easily be derailed if you don’t know when your drones and pilots are available.
4. Conduct a safety briefing.
Depending on the type of work site, get permission to fly over non-participants in the area and conduct a safety briefing. A safety briefing at a construction site will be different from one on a closed-set film shoot.
5. Inspect the site.
LIFT frequently flies at construction sites – which can make remote site inspections difficult.
“On every construction site, there are cranes, and they change location every day,” Andrew explains. “They may be 180 feet or 220 feet in the air. We also do a lot of surveying. Last week there was a water tower that was 280 feet.”
That’s why a careful on-site inspection for hazards and obstacles, as well as takeoff and landing sites, is so crucial.
“If we have multiple jobs at the same site, we’ll add the takeoff and landing sites to the Skyward airspace map,” Andrew adds.
6. Secure the takeoff and landing zones.
Make sure it’s obvious where the drone is taking off and landing.
7. Conduct the pre-flight checklist prior to takeoff; specifically, LIFT uses a 20-item list.
8. Launch the mission, and take pilot culture seriously.
“Although there aren’t any people in the aircraft that we fly, we treat them as if there were,” Andrew said. “Both the pilot and the observer are equally responsible for every flight. If anyone sees anything, they speak up.”
9. Conduct the post-flight checklist.
The LIFT team has modified its post-flight checklist over time: They now review the data they’ve collected before leaving the job site.
“We learned the hard way,” Andrew said. “We need to know that we actually collected the data that we were supposed to.”
This step is a huge timesaver.
“Sometimes you’ll think you’ve captured all the borders, but you’ll be 20 feet away from the edge,” Andrew says. “Or maybe images look fine on your phone, but then you pull it up on the computer, and everything is blurry. Look at your video or images before you leave to make sure you got what you want – especially if you drove a couple hours to get there.”
10. Clean up, and don’t forget your drone on-site!
Pick up the landing pad. Tell the site manager or project manager that the operation is complete. And then when everybody’s in agreement, we leave to deliver or process the data.
Back at the office
11. Log your flights.
Keeping a comprehensive record of all your drone flights makes sense; you’ll have everything in one place, outside of individual ground control stations. Your pilots will also be able to track their flight hours.
12. Deliver the data to your client.
This step depends on the deliverables outlined in the scope of work. It may be as simple as uploading raw footage for the client to download. But if a client has commissioned footage for a marketing video, you may need to do some editing. If it’s for a survey, you’ll use imaging software to stitch the images together.
This article is adapted from a blog post by Jessica Moody, marketing manager at Skyward, a Portland, Ore.-based provider of an information management platform for commercial drone operators.
Photos courtesy of LIFT Technologies via Skyward