We hope you enjoy this guest blog post from our friends at Skywatch.AI Drone Insurance!
A pilot’s worst nightmare is experiencing a drone accident. Not only does it put your operation at risk, but it wastes lots of valuable time and money.Truth be told, it does happen (even to drone professionals with years of experience under their belt) and we cannot avoid this reality. What we can do however is prepare for the potential dangers in order to reduce the probability of a crash.
There are numerous reasons as to why drones crash. While some are out of pilots’ control, other factors can be controlled with preparation, knowledge and attention to detail. The more educated and in control a pilot is, the less likely an accident will occur.
At SkyWatch.AI Drone Insurance we’ve examined thousands of commercial drone flights in the US using our proprietary Safety Score analysis. Among the flights we also analyzed various drone crashes in order to better understand which factors were common among drone pilots, missions and the environment they were operating in.
A good plan is the key to a successful flight
Before taking to the skies, understand the nature of your flight by defining your goals. Starting to fly without a given plan is guaranteed to increase your chances of crashing. It will also increase the time spent trying to accomplish your task at hand and your exposure to risk. Sometimes putting things in writing makes everything more tangible and helps you stay focused on what matters the most. Just a few minutes of pre-planning can save you precious time and effort later.
Your flight objectives will assist you in planning your equipment setup, timetables, insurance, and safety measures, and also allow you to familiarize yourself with the flying environment.
For example, construction site inspection missions require multiple angles, switching batteries, coordination with the construction crew, and protective gear. Scouting the area ahead of time will lead you to learn about obstacles such as towers and powerlines, and optimize your ground position.
When defining your objectives, ask yourself
- What angles will I need to fly my drone?
- How many still images/videos do I need?
- How long should my raw footage be?
- How many takes?
- What controller/software should I use?
Adjust your plan with on-site drone risk analysis
Once you are prepared for your flight and aware of the physical dangers of the flying locations, it’s time to examine other potential external risks. Give yourself time before the operation begins to review important “day of” flight insights such as new NFZs, a nearby accident on a congested road or weather updates. If there are any issues that could delay your work or pose danger you want to know this as soon as possible in order to access alternative solutions.
Take-off and landing
As in general aviation, drones take-off and landing are the most dangerous parts of the flight, where the aircraft/drone is exposed to more environmental hazards, its systems are more fragile and the pilot has less time to respond due to ground proximity.
Practical actions to a responsible flight
To know if you are prepared for takeoff, ask yourself these questions:
- Are my drone and remote batteries fully charged and weather protected?
Taking off with a battery life of less than 75% significantly increases the chances for unexpected flight, voltage and connection drops etc.
- Do I have strong enough GPS and Satellite connection?
It is extremely important to make sure you calibrate your drone and remote (compass, RTH), set your antennas for max reception and have optimal GPS/Satellite connection. Don’t ignore GPS related warnings as these situations can quickly get out of hand.
- Am I ready to record and is there space on my memory card?
While this won’t directly affect your flight safety it will boost your confidence and enhance your decision making. Simply check the SD card compartment and make sure that the camera and gimbal are flight-ready.
- Do I have a clear take-off area and flight path?
Lower altitude obstacles are the main hazard here. From unintended bystanders vehicles to trees and powerlines – there are many low altitude hazards that might become risks to your drone. Do your best to maintain visual line of sight (VLOS) and make sure to take extra care when flying below 70 feet. As new drones emerge they are equipped with better obstacles avoidance sensors, however, these systems are not an alternative to safe flying.
Pro Tip: Train and practice with your drone in a safe and controlled environment. Try different flight modes and settings to make sure you are confident and comfortable to perform in any situation. Variants might include day/night/twilight flying, ATTI mode and different flight apps.
Return to home or not?
You’ve gotten the required footage and now all that is left to do is get the drone back. Simple right? Well, this is where many pilots tend to let their guards down. It is crucial to maintain control of the drone and its flight path always, so while tempting, don’t rush to press the RTH button. Observe the drone and re-examine your landing area, changes in weather and your surroundings might force you to reevaluate your landing procedure. Lastly, strive to land your drone with at least 30% power in reserve as you never know if maybe you’ll need that extra bit of energy. (Plus, this may even result in a higher SkyWatch.AI Safety Score)
You are in control
These crucial points are the results of both data analysis and investigation of real drone flights and crashes. While environmental factors and technological malfunctions are not at our control, the human factor is the key. As a professional and safe drone pilot, it’s up to you to keep yourself educated, trained and aware of the potential risks in order to keep you and your drone safe and sound.