By Autumn Alderdice, FAA Training and Simulation Group
Every flight, whether it’s with a drone or a traditional aircraft, goes through the same phases from preflight to postflight, with each having its own distinct challenges and areas of risk. Every pilot is responsible for being prepared for this array of potential issues. We’ve outlined a few questions and tips to help you be prepared for each phase of your next drone flight and respond calmly to any situation that may arise.
Am I prepared for this flight today? This means:
- Do I have my Part 107 pilot certificate or TRUST completion certificate with me?
- Do I have the required FAA airspace authorizations and, if applicable, required waivers, and have them with me?
- Is my aircraft registered and does it show the registration number on the outside surface?
- How am I feeling today? Do I have any health issues that would prevent me operating my drone safely today?
- Have I checked the weather, airspace, and NOTAMs where I’m going to be flying my drone (winds, visibility, flight restrictions, local laws, etc.)?
- Have I programmed any geo-fence areas to help me avoid areas I can’t fly over (if your software allows)?
- Is my drone in safe condition for flight? Check that each part of the drone is in working order, the drone and controller are fully charged, you have extra charged batteries if you plan on flying longer, and the batteries are in good condition.
- Am I standing in a safe place to operate this flight for the entire time I’m flying?
- Does my proposed operation require additional crew members, and do all crew members understand their assigned duties (person flying, visual observers, camera operator, remote pilot in command)?
- Have I identified areas nearby where other aircraft may be flying and do I have a plan to watch those areas and maneuver away as needed?
- Is the area around me clear of people and structures?
- Is my controller connected to the drone?
- Can I see enough of the airspace in all directions to see and avoid other aircraft in time to maneuver safely away?
- Is the area I’m flying over clear of people?
- Can I still see my drone and enough of the surrounding airspace?
- Is my controller still connected and I am able to maintain control?
- Is my drone behaving as expected (i.e., are the controls responding correctly to my inputs)?
- What areas can I land in if there is an issue with my drone?
- Is my drone in good condition or did it impact anything in flight?
- Are my batteries still in good condition?
- Did I have any issues with connectivity or the ability to control my aircraft?
- Have I turned off the controller, drone, and other equipment I used and stored them safely?
As a drone pilot, it is important for you to take time after your flight to evaluate what went well (or not so well) during each stage of your flight. Consider how you could have done better, what you would do differently next time, and what went well so that you can build on that for the next flight.
You might ask yourself whether it’s really necessary to follow all these steps every time you go fly a drone. The answer is yes! Following this list not only helps you ensure you are operating safely and responsibly, but when used regularly, this will become second nature to you and you’ll be able to move through it very quickly. We encourage all pilots to think of these questions throughout their flight. Being proactive in your preparation makes for a smooth drone flight and improves the safety of your operation for you and those around you.
Autumn Alderdice is an aviation safety inspector with the FAA’s Training and Simulation Group.