Safe Drone Operation Guidelines

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DroneWire  |  September 28, 2015
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Fueled by a wide range of products and a passionate following of business and enthusiast users, small Unmanned Aerial Systems (sUAS), or drones, have the potential to foster significant, positive changes for industry and society.

Technological advancements have made the operation of drones easier than ever, and lowered manufacturing costs have made them a prolific tool for many commercial applications. In 2010 the FAA estimated that by 2020 there would be 15,000 drones in the U.S. Currently, more than that number are being sold in the country each month.

Whether operating a drone for commercial purposes or pleasure, UAS pilots are obligated to do their part toward maintaining a positive image for this emerging industry, and more importantly, ensuring the safety of people and property.

UAS operators should consider the following drone safety guidelines, gathered from a wide range of professionals and industry resources.

Common Sense

The most effective tool for operating a drone safely, is common sense. Unsafe practices such as flying over crowds, flying too high, or operating too close to manned aircraft, should be obvious. Don’t engage in flights where there are added risks due to weather conditions or operating near critical infrastructure, such as power stations or heavily traveled roads.

Do not take photos or videos or people in areas where a legal expectation to privacy exists. Be familiar with the features of your aircraft and its limitations, and become proficient in its operation. If you encounter unusual aircraft behavior while flying, bring the drone back and land.

Drone safety is a top issue in the public eye right now; exercising common sense will prevent you from becoming the next story that reflects poorly on our entire industry.

Drone Best Practices

Business and consumer UAVs operate in the national airspace, and careless or reckless drone flights could pose a danger to manned aircraft and people or property on the ground. Whether you’re a commercial or hobbyist drone pilot, take your safety obligations seriously.

Here are some tips for safe and efficient drone operations from some of the industry’s leading companies, engineers, and enthusiasts.

  • Treat the ownership and operation of your drone with a serious attitude; it’s a tool, not a toy.

  • Develop and maintain an intimate knowledge of your aircraft, its flight controls, features, and physical or technological limitations.

  • Follow manufacturer guidelines for maintaining your equipment and performing preflight checks. Perform routine test flights; especially following software upgrades. Some professional drone operators keep maintenance and flight logs.

  • Know the area in which you will be flying and always remain mindful of safety issues.

  • Maintain line-of-sight operation of your aircraft.

  • If covering events in the presence of uninvolved patrons, do not fly directly over them, and use trained spotters to help with issues like loss of control.

  • Develop knowledge of federal, state and local regulations pertaining to drone use.

  • Be aware of Federal Aviation Administration policies for drone use, and know about No-fly Zones, NOTAMs (Notice to Airmen), and TFRs (Temporary Flight Restrictions).

  • Pay close attention to the weather when operating your drone. Most small UAV’s should not be operated in winds above 25 mph.

  • Know when to seek permission to fly, such as operating within close proximity to airports or critical infrastructure facilities.

  • Be aware of birds of prey within the vicinity of your operations. Hawks and eagles have been known to attack drones, sometimes resulting in injuries to the animal and even drone crashes.

Federal & State Laws

Knowledge of federal, state and local laws is crucial when operating a drone. The FAA, in conjunction with the Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA), and the Small UAV Coalition, operates Know Before You Fly, an educational website for drone users.

The National Conference of State Legslatures maintains an updated database of current state laws pertaining to drone operations. UAV systems researcher and attorney Sarah Nilsson also maintains a well-researched archive of state drone laws.

Drone Operator Apps & Tools

There are a number of useful smartphone apps that can help drone operators make better decisions. Weather apps that include forecast and real-time radar data are instrumental for timing flights when storms are a possibility. Hover is an app designed specifically for drone users, and includes information about the current Kp-Index (a measure ment of geomagnetic activity that could affect GPS satellite signals) as well as a map of current FAA no-fly zones.

B4UFLY is an app being developed by the FAA and is currently in beta testing, with an expected release date for IOS and Android devices at the end of 2015. When released, this app should be prove useful for drone pilots, and will feature real-time data on Temporary Flight Restrictions that may affect your area of operations.

Take your practice or hobby seriously, stay updated on the latest drone policies and best practices, exercise common sense, and enjoy your flights!

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