These five steps can provide you with the general information required to conduct successful UAS missions in today’s complex world.
Check flying conditions, perform site assessment and prepare for your flight
- Check the weather and temperature. Most drones are not suitable for flying in precipitation, windy days, and freezing temperatures.
- Check the global UTM platform for safe, compliant, and efficient drone operations on AirMap
- Get a clear picture of your goals for the flight. Ensure that you have reviewed the complete flight plan including the main areas of interest.
- Take off and land locations. These should be in an open area, away from overhead obstructions, roads, or bystanders. You should also note alternate Emergency landing zones should also be considered.
Identify potential hazards
- Overhead obstructions: Powerlines, branches, or parts of large structures are examples.
- Terrain variations: Hills and outcroppings can cause a pilot to go above the FAA-mandated 400 feet above ground level (AGL). Take care to note where you will need to descend beforehand.
- Bodies of water: Water absorbs heat, which can confuse UAV sensors. You will want to turn these sensors off if you’re flying within 50 feet AGL of water.
- Birds and animals: If you’re in an area with birds, especially nesting areas, plan to avoid them and ascend if you encounter a flock. As the lead bird in a flock will be the highest in elevation, aim for higher than this bird in cases where you must cross their path.
- Manmade or natural structures: Any structure over 10 feet tall can cause low-level turbulence and present a collision hazard. Note them beforehand to lower your risk.
- Broadcasting equipment, transmission power lines, or residential Wi-Fi: These hazards can cause interference, which can cause UAVs to behave erratically. Avoid these interference hazards and set your drone to broadcast in 5.8 GHz if there are Wi-Fi signals nearby.
Never fly over 400 feet, stadiums, crowds, near emergency response efforts or within the restricted zones of airports.
Secure the necessary documentation before drone operation.
- Pilots operating drones for commercial use should secure a commercial drone license (or remote pilot certificate) and keep this with them before drone operation; drone pilots operating for government use are not required to have a license.
- Drone pilots with specific drone flights not allowed under Part 107 can request operational waivers, which they can attach to the preflight checklist once granted.
- For construction project managers, make sure to secure additional permits, if any, before flying above sites.
Know and comply with specific drone operation laws in your area.
- Research about the specific set of drone laws in the area you intend to fly your drone in and make sure to comply with them. See drone regulations for each state.
Ensure if the drone is fit for flight.
- Carefully go through the drone preflight checklist and check every part of the drone to see any signs of damage or obstruction.
- Ensure that batteries are adequately charged.
Check camera settings and make sure that the memory card has enough space.
Always update your drone’s firmware.
- It is essential to upgrade the firmware to ensure that your drone is always calibrated in terms of connectivity, navigation, and behavior.
Under Part 107 FAA regulations, commercial operations can fly a drone that is less than 55 pounds for work or business by following three main steps.
- The Drone – Drones are defined as “aircraft” under federal law, but unlike other aircraft, drones are not subject to any FAA airworthiness certification requirements. Instead, drone operators must verify the physical drone themselves. The drone and all attachments – which may not include hazardous material – must not exceed 55 pounds, and drones must have appropriate anti-collision lighting. The drone must be registered with the FAA, which costs $5 and is valid for 3 years. Once registered, the FAA registration number must be clearly visible10 on an outside surface of the drone by engraving or permanent marker.
- Drone Pilot – To legally operate a drone commercially, the operator/pilot needs to obtain a drone pilot license, formerly referred to as a “remote pilot certificate with a small UAS rating.” To be eligible to get a Remote Pilot Certificate, a candidate must be at least 16 years old, be able to read, write, speak, and understand English, and be in a physical and mental condition to safely fly a drone. The candidate must take and pass a knowledge test at an FAA-approved knowledge testing center.
After passing the test a candidate must complete FAA Form 8710-13 for a remote pilot certificate using the electronic FAA Integrated Airman Certificate and/or Rating Application system and pass a Transportation Security Administration security background check. Upon completion, a remote pilot certificate will be issued from the electronic FAA Integrated Airman Certificate and/or Rating Application system. The pilot must have this certificate on their person while operating a drone commercially.
- Drone Operations: A preflight inspection by the remote pilot in command is required. Other Part 107 rules require that commercial drone flights must remain in the visual line-of-sight of the remote pilot in command and the person manipulating the flight controls of the drone, or alternatively, within VLOS of an observer. Commercial drone flights may not operate over any persons not directly participating in the operation or under a covered structure or inside a
covered stationary vehicle. Additionally, commercial drone flights under Part 107:
- Must be daylight-only operations, or civil twilight, 30 minutes before official sunrise to 30 minutes after official sunset, local time.
- Must yield right of way to other aircraft.
- Cannot exceed groundspeed of 100 mph, or 87 knots, or an altitude of 400 feet above ground level or, if higher than 400 feet, must remain within 400 feet of a structure.
- May operate in Class G airspace11 without Air Traffic Control permission, and in Class B, C, D and E airspace with Air Traffic Control permission.
- Cannot operate from a moving aircraft or vehicle.
Drones can and do crash, and some accidents need to be reported to the FAA. If the drone accident results in a serious injury to a person or damage to property more than $500, the remote pilot in command is required under § 107.9 to report the incident to the FAA within 10 calendar days.
Operational Waivers – Drone operators may request to fly specific drone operations not allowed under part 107 by requesting an operational waiver. A waiver is an official document issued by the FAA that approves certain operations of aircraft outside the limitations of a regulation. These waivers allow drone pilots to deviate from certain rules under part 107 by demonstrating they can still fly safely using alternative methods. Applying for a waiver requires a description of the proposed operation, and of the possible operational risks and methods proposed to lessen/mitigate those risks.