As the drone industry matures, more companies are relying on drone-acquired data to inform their enterprise operations. As drones are increasingly integrated into workflows around power lines, construction sites, and pipelines, ensuring they are flown consistently and reliably is paramount. Drone incidents can not only increase costs, but they can also slow down operations—or even stop them altogether.
In the first part of our drone safety series, we focused on hardware best practices that boost operational safety. This time we move on to software, and at the heart of this is flight planning. Several companies have introduced different types of flight planning software, and their features can be critical to keeping drones safe. Here are a few key considerations for pilots to keep in mind as they choose flight planning software to help ensure the safety of their flights.
Know Your Rules and Regulations
There are several safety guidelines that pilots need to remember, and this should be incorporated in flight planning. To simplify the process, AirMap provides a comprehensive situational awareness tool that provides drone pilots with rule notifications, tools, and services, including compliance briefings, automated digital authorization, traffic alerts — making it easy for drone pilots to tackle airspace management.
Another element to consider is altitude. Drones are typically required to fly below 400ft (roughly 122 meters) in the United States but rules can vary across jurisdictions. Canada, for instance, requires drones to fly below 90 meters (about 295 feet). Compliance with such restrictions is a matter of utmost importance, as it helps ensure that drone flights do not disrupt air traffic of larger, manned aircraft.
Another factor is maintenance of a visual line of sight. Pilots should be able to see the drone throughout the entire flight as 1) it is often required by law, and 2) it makes it easier to course correct should things go awry. In terms of flight planning, this means crafting plans that allow a pilot to maintain line of sight throughout the flight or, if that’s not possible, breaking the job up into several small flights to ensure overall safety.
Lastly, pilots should be conscious to avoid unintended intrusions while flying. If you have been contracted to collect imagery of a specific area, adjacent spaces should be respected as they may belong to private entities. To strictly enforce this, some flight planning software options have geofencing capabilities. Geofencing can automatically constrain a flight within an intended area. Should geofencing be unavailable, pilots can also manually create a plan while cognizant of the flight limitations.
Scope Your Flight Area
Another safety tip is to have an idea of the terrain and potential obstructions in and around the flight area before getting there. Free services such as Google Maps or Google Earth can be used to get helpful overviews. Having knowledge of any potential obstructions or similar restrictions during the flight planning stage can lower the chances that such obstructions get in the way of a successful mission. This initial flight plan might not always be accurate, and modifications may be needed while on the field. However, such preparation is still good safety practice, and also more operationally efficient.
Practice Makes Perfect
The final safety tip is to practice whenever possible. Manufacturers like DJI have made this easier through drone flight simulators. These programs allow pilots to immerse themselves in realistic environments to test out a wide range of flight parameters. This can be especially helpful if a pilot is intending to fly in an area that has conditions that they are not familiar with, as DJI’s simulator has the option to add ground and wind effects to enhance the practice experience.
Should you have any questions about protecting your commercial drone operations, you can reach out to us at info@DroneInsurance.com. In the next part of this blog series, we give you even more safety tips for drones, this time focusing on the use of Unmanned Traffic Management systems.