FAQs on the Ins and Outs of Running a Commercial UAV Operation

Written by Jessica Moody
on February 23, 2016 No Comments

Last week, a team of panelists – Tom Hallman, formerly with Pictorvision; David Day, executive vice president of Keystone Aerial Surveys; and Jon Ollwerther, chief marketing officer of Aerobo – joined Skyward’s webinar that provided tips for running a professional unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) operation.

Marcos Osorno, chief technology officer of Skyward, has circled back and addressed some of the questions that popped up most frequently in the session.

Why do I need to plan a flight before I get on-site?
Planning a flight in advance has several major advantages:

Safety: By planning a flight in advance, you’ll know if you’re allowed to conduct a flight in that area or if you need to coordinate with the air traffic control tower. You’ll see if the area is in a highly populated area that will require crowd control or if it’s next to significant hazards, such as power lines or a freeway.

Efficiency: By planning a flight in advance, you’ll eliminate confusion among your field crew once they’re on-site. They’ll know exactly where they need to fly, the data they need to gather, the hazards they need to avoid, and the equipment and batteries they’ll use for the job.

Scheduling: Most commercial UAV operations require more than a pilot and an observer. You may also need a project manager, foreman, surveyor, camera operator, security or traffic control crew, and external stakeholders. Planning a flight in advance allows you to coordinate with all of your flight participants.

What information should I track in my flight plan?
Your flight plan should include the specific areas that need to be inspected, photographed, filmed or surveyed; potential hazards; pilot in command; other crew members; aircraft and batteries; equipment and payload; and any other information your business needs to manage.

I looked at the map. Everything looks clear. Why do I still need to plan a flight area in advance?
Creating a flight area shows your field crew exactly where they need to fly. It also allows you to flag and plan for potential hazards such as power lines, residential areas, tall structures that may be outside of your Certification of Waiver or Authorization (COA), and high-traffic areas.

Do I need landowner permission to fly? How do I document that?
The answer to this depends on your jurisdiction. For example, at Skyward, we operate under an FAA 333 grant of exemption and corresponding COA. Our grant specifically says that landowner permission is required before conducting flights.

You should check the rules in your jurisdiction, as well as the certificates or waivers your operation holds, to see if you need landowner permission. If you do, you can attach letters from landowners to your flight plan so you’ll have them at hand should the need arise.

Why do I need to log a flight separately from my ground control station (GCS)?
Fragmented information is the enemy of efficient business operations. GCSs only record the flight data of a specific drone. Drone operations software is agnostic and can be used with every pilot, drone, and battery in your fleet. For example, logging flights, such as through Skyward’s software, allows you to manage the totality of your operations, including equipment use and maintenance, pilot hours, and missions completed.

A full recording of Skyward’s webinar can be found here.

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.

Photo courtesy of Skyward

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