Are Drone Pilots Also “Maintainers”?
By John Waters, FAA’s UAS Integration Office
As spring approaches, the fair-weather flying opportunities are nearly upon us. It’s a good time to retrieve your drone’s operating manual and review the recommended maintenance checks from the manufacturer. As the drone’s pilot, you are solely responsible for ensuring the overall safety of the flight. Checking your drone for defects prior to and after each flight (preflight and post-flight assessment), along with following manufacturers’ maintenance recommendations, may keep your next flight from being your last.
Have you ever finished a preflight assessment only to learn that there’s something wrong with your drone and you don’t have the correct spare parts to repair it? A preflight assessment is an excellent way to catch “day of” problems before they escalate into a hazardous situation. For those of us who don’t always have essential replacement parts on hand, relying on a preflight assessment alone could lead to significant flight delays or even keep you temporarily grounded while you wait on parts. As a preventive measure, consider developing your own drone Maintenance and Inspection (M&I) program. An M&I program based on daily, weekly, and monthly checks will not only help keep your drone flying at optimal performance but also helps you catch problems before you head out for your flight.
A disciplined M&I routine, including checking the drone after it lands (post-flight assessment), can reveal problems well before they end up causing a safety issue during your next flight. Not all drone manufacturers have detailed maintenance instructions. For this reason, it is in every drone pilot’s best interest to create an M&I program. It may be tempting to use a “one size fits all” template when researching drone maintenance programs. This approach is not practical given the variety of drone types and configurations. When creating an M&I program suitable for your situation, consider your particular drone’s size, weight, power source (battery-powered vs. conventional fuel), and its unique technological capabilities.
As a preventive measure, consider developing a drone maintenance and assessment program for the operation of your specific drone.
Here are some maintenance best practices to ensure that your drone is in good working order and if repairs or replacements may be needed before your next flight. See FAA Advisory Circular 107–2A Appendix E for a more detailed list of preflight/post-flight assessment and inspection checklist samples.
- Verify that all the manufacturer-required components of the drone are present and operating as designed.
- Inspect the drone’s structure, all flight control surfaces, and linkages for damage.
- Check propulsion system, including powerplant(s), propeller(s), rotor(s), ducted fan(s), etc.
- Verify that all drone systems have an adequate power supply for the intended operation and function properly.
Post Flight Assessment:
- Evaluate the drone to determine whether repairs are required before subsequent flights.
- Conduct a flight review to include any equipment malfunctions and anomalies.
Always record all concerns, repairs, routine maintenance, and feedback in a maintenance log to improve the safety of future flight operations.
So are drone pilots also maintainers? Yes! It is always the drone pilot’s responsibility to ensure their drone is in a condition for safe operations. Remember, drone safety always begins with a good maintenance program and thorough preflight and post-flight assessments.
John Waters is a program manager for UAS support and outreach in the FAA’s UAS Integration Office and previously worked as an air traffic control specialist.