Whats involved with a commercial drone flight?
Every UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) operator follows a similar process when it comes to undertaking a commercial flight, although every operator has a slightly different way of approaching things, that said in essence the same information is gathered etc.
Commercial operators have a lot to lose, most importantly their reputation, as without a good reputation in the commercial drone industry it will be hard to continue to build a client base and retain existing ones! so for a commercial operator its imperative that they do things right, this means following the processes that they have written into their operations manual which helps to manages the risks associated with flying, so what are those processes? This post outlines just some of the things I do when undertaking an assignment and is based on my process.
First off any commercial operator must have permission from the land owner where they intend to take off and land, this as far as I am aware is not negotiable and is a pre requisite to any flight undertaken commercially, so as you can imagine the permission from the land owner is usually gained before anything else is considered, arguably though equally as important is what the client requires from the operator and the associated flight, why? well firstly I need to be satisfied that the client has no ill intentions, such as trying to see a neighbours property etc, beyond that though if you don't understand the clients requirements how can you plan the flight and what you need to capture?, once in receipt of this information & permission has been obtained an initial assessment of the site can be undertaken, this usually comprises of a remote survey utilising apps such as google maps etc to understand what hazards exist, such as trees, power lines, proximity to houses and so on, that said if there are any issues its likely this will could result in visiting the location in person, it also allows the operator to make an assessment of the airspace and any associated restrictions on the airspace around or near the intend site, these can include things such as danger areas, restricted areas or obstructions such as a HIRTA (High Intensity Radio Transmission Areas)or an AIAA (Area of Intense Aerial Activity) that could pose a problem, and if necessary carry out specific risk assessments.
Once the initial assessment has been undertaken and it’s been determined that it’s possible to safely and legally undertake the flight, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the process ends there, however as with all things in aviation it’s never that simple, as things can and do change from day to day. this means the operator will monitor the weather on the lead up to the day of the flight, to make sure the weather is acceptable to fly in, then come the day of the assignment the operator will undertake a final assessment of the area, check the NOTAMs (notice to airmen) for any changes to the airspace around where they are flying, for those that are not in the aviation world, NOTAMs are basically a way of getting changes to airspace out there in the event of something temporary happening or if there has been a last minute change to something such as a flight path changing etc (this is something i recently experienced with the battle of Britain memorial flight), once satisfied they will undertake a further assessment to identify key areas such as emergency landing or holding areas and give a full briefing to any staff, observers or ground assistants in attendance, pre flight checks are then carried out, this is no small undertaking, and can involve a full check of the aircraft and batteries, props, motors undercarriage etc to make sure the aircraft is in a suitable condition to fly.
Then comes the easy bit, actually flying, its probably also the shortest part of the whole operation as well but this is in general the only bit the client actually sees so they have no real understanding of the ground work that has gone in before the UAV is even off the ground.
Now if your anything like me you would think that