Top Questions on Commercial Drone Operations Answered

02/22/2016

Pictorvision conducted a legal and compliant aerial photography shoot for Southwest Airlines. (Photo: Pictorvision)

Last week, a team of expert panelists — Tom Hallman, formerly with Pictorvision; David Day, executive vice president of Keystone Aerial Surveys; and Jon Ollwerther, chief marketing officer of Aerobo — joined us in providing Must-Know Tips for Running a Professional UAV Operation.

We’ve received so much positive feedback about our expert panelists, but we’ve received even more questions about the ins and outs of commercial UAV ops. More than 700 commercial drone operators registered for the webinar, so we could only answer a small fraction during the live Q&A.

(If you missed it, you can still watch the recording of the webinar.)

As webinar coordinator, I didn’t feel good about leaving so many thoughtful questions from our attendees unanswered. So I asked Marcos Osorno, our CTO, to circle back and address some of the questions that popped up most frequently.

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 powerlines 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.

Skyward allows you to create custom fields so you can track any metrics that you need.

I looked at the map. Everything looks clear. Why do I 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 powerlines, residential areas, tall structures that may be outside of your 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, here at Skyward, we operate under an FAA 333 Grant of Exemption and corresponding Certificate of Waiver and Authorization. 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 within Skyward so you’ll have them at hand should the need arise.

Why do I need to log a flight separately from my GCS?

Fragmented information is the enemy of efficient business operations. Ground control stations only record the flight data of a specific drone. Drone operations software, such as Skyward, is agnostic and can be used with every pilot, drone, and battery in your fleet. Logging flights in Skyward allows you to manage the totality of your operations, including equipment use and maintenance, pilot hours, and missions completed.

Why do other maps show different airspaces than Skyward?

Skyward displays current, accurate airspaces for categories of airspace regulated and relevant to commercial drone operators. For example, the U.S. drone operator blanket COA has specific requirements for airport and heliport standoff distances based on the type of airport or heliport. Some maps only represent airports.

The Canadian standing Special Flight Operating Certificate has differing sets of commercial operator standoffs. However, the action required by the operator is essentially the same: Additional coordination with an authority is required.

For ease of use, Skyward combines several airspace categories that don’t allow for commercial drone flights: prohibited airspace, temporary flight restrictions, permanent flight restrictions, U.S. SFRAs (excluding the Washington, DC SFRA), and restricted airspaces.

Our goal is to empower commercial drone operators with accurate, easy-to-understand airspace information that could affect compliant operational flights, and not to simply provide unfiltered information, whether or not it affects regulations.

Some drone airspace maps let me turn layers on and off (recreational vs. commercial, temporary flight restrictions, National Parks, etc.). Why doesn’t Skyward?

We’ve simplified the map in order to make it easier for commercial operators to use in the field: When you want to see airspace restrictions, we show all the areas where the air is restricted. The Skyward airspace map focuses on commercial drone use and regulations and simplifies the collective “restricted” airspace layer (multiple areas that all mean “don’t fly here”).

Our customers consistently tell us that they appreciate this option because their goal is knowing where to fly, not clicking through a list of airspace categories.


Originally published at skyward.io on February 22, 2016.

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