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Ensuring Safety in Drone Operations: A Guide for Businesses and Pilots

Introduction

What I love about aviation, is that it’s such a special industry with its own innuendos. It’s an industry characterised by some players with huge profit margins (airports) and low profit margins (airlines), it’s been romanticised since in the Golden era of flight after WWII, and it even has its own language (ICAO Aviation English).

Aviation came about in a very quick way with the World Wars, but luckily it had the backing, history, and rulebook of maritime to copy over. Bodies such as ICAO (here’s a link to an aviation acronym list) in 1944 helped to standardise international civil aviation for the safety of all. In Australia CASA is the government regulatory authority of aviation who promotes the safety of civil aviation. This is where we, as drone pilots and businesses fall under, and who’s direct regulations we need to abide by for the safety of all, us, traditional aircraft, and those on the ground. 

UASys is a firm believer that safety is the first and most important priority when it comes to aviation. We always promote our drones to be flown safely, and which is why we have a number of safety guides as well. Because of this, UASys is now a CASA drone safety advocate, and we’re proud to be part of this safety group alongside other responsible advocates.

As such this guide is dedicated to safety in the drone aviation space where we’ll touch upon things like pre-flight checks, flight planning, and risk management. We already have guides dedicated towards drone laws & rules in Australia, rules & authorisations flying near military airports, and understanding the CASA rules for safe flying.

Drone Design and Manufacturing

The last thing you want to happen is to have your drone fall out of the sky (which is why insurance is always a good idea), but there are drones out there like the DJI Matrice 300 which have multiple redundancies in case one system goes down, another one can pick up the load to continue safely flying. For instance the Matrice 300 comes with dual IMUs (again here’s a link to drone acronyms), dual barometers, dual compasses, six pairs of vision sensors, dual batteries, dual transmission links, three propeller emergency landing and an ADS-B receiver. Understanding the redundancies available in your drone important so you have piece of mind while flying.

Pre-Flight Safety Checks and Maintenance

As with traditional aviation, no pilot just opens the door and hops in the aircraft like you would a car. You take a look at all the critical parts of the aircraft to ensure there’s nothing amiss. As a drone pilot you do the same thing before each day and each flight. Going through your pre-flight checklist, battery checks, firmware updates and propeller inspections are an important part of being a professional pilot. Since there’s a few moving pieces on a drone as well, you’ll need to ensure you keep maintenance up to date as per the drone maintenance manuals, or as per your ReOC.

Flight Planning and Risk Management

Much like building a house, a lot of time goes into planning how it will all come together, then building is actually the relatively straight forward part in the whole process. Drone flying is the same, it’s easy to spend 50% of the time on planning, 5% of the time on flying, and then 45% of the time processing data. Being thorough with your flight planning for effective risk management is crucial in any drone operations. Clients (particularly government) are very conscious of this as well, since drones hold a steady line with social acceptance, we want to make sure we’re on the good side.

Safe Operating Procedures

Establishing and following procedures as outlined in your ReOC, or our safety guides, is just as important. As an ex Air Traffic Flow Manager, and dealing in a safety sensitive position, I know the importance of following procedures to ensure we’re flying within safe operating parameters. Promoting a safety conscious culture within your drone business and peers will help ensure that procedures in a highly regulated industry are followed for the safety of everyone.

 

Conclusion

Safety is the foundation of everything that aviation is involved in, which is why in 2018, the fatal accident rate was only 0.28 per 1 000 000 flights1. Compare this to driving a car in Australia with a fatality rate of 40 per 1 000 000 registered cars in 20222. That’s an increase factor of 143 times. Drones will continue to become more safe, but it’s up to us as pilots and businesses to ensure that they are also flown safely. 

 
How to register your drone
 
  1. https://www.iata.org/en/youandiata/travelers/aviation-safety/
  2. https://www.bitre.gov.au/publications/ongoing/road_deaths_australia_annual_summaries
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