You’ve done your preflight checklist and you’re well within the law to fly the drone. Unfortunately, the rules and regulations are not the only things to consider. You also must think about the potential risks you are willing to take, or not take, in order to ensure a safe flight. The majority of drone-related accidents occur because of reckless flying. Here are some ways, derived from the FAA’s pilot handbook, to make sure the flight team takes as few risks as possible.
Acronyms that save lives (and drones)
These three acronyms will help you isolate any risks imposed by the pilot and flight team and the mission, and will give you the steps react mid-flight. Plus, they’re directly out of the FAA’s Pilot’s Handbook for Aeronautical Knowledge, and they will be on the 107 test. Discuss these with your team and boss to come up with mission rules specified to your situation.
IMSAFE – Risks imposed by the pilot and flight team
- Illness: Is any member of the flight team compromised by sickness?
- Medication: Is any member of the flight team taking medicine that could influence reaction time or clarity of mind?
- Stress: How does each individual team member react to high-stress situations? What extra stress factors are imposed by the timing of the mission or the mission itself?
- Alcohol: Has anyone recently ingested alcohol? Eight hours from bottle to throttle.
- Fatigue: Is anyone sleep deprived?
- Eating: Are there dietary circumstances that could prevent a team member from performing vital duties?
PAVE – Risks imposed by the mission
- Pilot: This is covered by “IMSAFE”
- Aircraft: Does your drone have the battery power, horsepower, or maneuverability to complete the mission? Is the craft in good physical condition with no damage to the rotors, hull, batteries or landing gear? Are there any necessary updates?
- Environment: What obstacles might you face based on the weather and physical structures around you? Certain surfaces, geographical features or structures can create variation in air temperature, direction and speed that could be risky for flight.
- External: Are there other factors that could come into play during the mission? Think about possible hazards like other aircraft and intrusion of foot traffic below the operation.
3 Ps – In-flight reaction steps
- Perceive: Keep constant eyes on the drone or on the camera monitor. Vigilance is key. Try to predict potential hazards before they negatively unfold.
- Process: When an issue arises, determine the safest path. Even if it breaks an FAA regulation or interrupts a shot, safety is always number one.
- Perform: Employ the safest maneuver as soon as you determine what it is. There is always a chance to land and regroup if the drone is still intact. Then, go back to perceiving. This should be an endless cycle.
Behaviors that increase risk
A large part of reckless flying comes simply from the attitude of the pilot. The following psychological behaviors are the most common attitudes to ward against.
- Anti-Authority: This behavior fights against being told what to do. The pilot will be tempted to ignore or do the opposite of commercial regulations or advice from others. All commercial drone pilots must be rule followers.
- Impulsivity: This behavior is quick to make decisions without proper risk assessment. A pilot must be level-headed in crises, which comes from experience and practice.
- Invulnerability: This behavior fuels a pilot’s belief that an accident will not happen to him or her. Understanding real life situations and learning from the mistakes of other pilots can help decrease this attitude. A pilot must be grounded in reality.
- Macho: This behavior is eager to try maneuvers or react to situations in dangerous or risky ways. The famous last words of any pilot are, “Watch this.” I good pilot knows safety always comes before any action in flight.
- Resignation: This behavior gives up in the midst of stress. Giving up almost ensures a crash and is never helpful. A pilot should be aware of potential problems and have an idea of how to react if these problems arise.
Accidents happen all the time in the drone community. Understanding the procedure after an accident will help you avoid higher expenses or penalties down the road.
If you are unsure of damage, make sure you have your insurance provider create a claim within 10 days. If you don’t have insurance, still try to have someone else involved in assessment. Don’t try to asses on your own. If you can’t get anyone else involved, report it. It’s better to report an accident you’re unsure about than not report it and ultimately be at fault.
What to do if you’ve crashed your drone:
You must report an accident if the accident meets a specific criteria. Failure to report will mean big trouble down the road that could result in a fine and/or a revoked license.
Report an accident through your dashboard on the FAA Drone Zone website.
- Use the 107 dashboard account your drone is registered within
- Report must be submitted within 10 days of the accident
- Submit the report if:
- There is more than $500 damage, not including the drone
- There is serious injury like broken bones, large wounds or loss of consciousness
Information on this page comes from the FAA’s Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge