Onsite Safety for UAV Operations

When working on location one of the most important factors is safety.  Be it a public park or industrial work site, all locations will have elements that need to be taken into account for safe operation.

Safety includes both with your UAV and gear and the site itself.  Proper preoperational planning will go a long way in helping establish safety procedures and executing a safe operation.

The following are some general tips and advice on working safely on site with your UAV:

  • Perform a site inspection before committing to any work.  This will allow you to assess the location and ensure you can operate safely. Note items such as tree, wires, surrounding buildings, roadways, and other elements that may limit where you can fly.  Also check for any radio transmitters in the area that could cause potential control interference.
  • Verify the airspace you are working in and where necessary ensure you contact the local ATC (Air Traffic Control) and file NOTAMS when required beforehand. (See this article for more details – UAV Flight Planning & NOTAM Resources)
  • Determine if PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) is required to be on the site.  Many commercial/industrial locations will have minimum requirements for gear (hard hat, safety boots, eye-wear, etc) and possibly associated training (WHMIS, etc) before you are allowed to be on site.
  • Make sure you have the proper insurance coverage for the location and work being performed.  Some clients may have minimum liability and related coverage requirements.
  • Monitor the weather leading up to and during the flight to ensure conditions are safe and within any regulatory restrictions you may be working under.  These typically involve cloud ceiling, visibility range, wind speed, and precipitation.
  • Perform aircraft and gear inspection prior to operation and before each flight.
  • Have a field kit containing all your safety equipment easily deployable and accessible on site.  This should include items such as fire extinguisher, first aid kit, cell phone, VHF airband radio, pylons/safety tape, air horn.
  • Have someone on your team trained in first aid in the event of an accident.
  • Have emergency numbers and contacts on hand so you can quickly inform authorities if needed.
  • If operating in an active air zone it is a good idea to have an airband VHF on hand to monitor traffic in the area, this will allow you to act appropriately before spotting an actual aircraft in your flight path.
  • Ensure you have permission of the property owners and associated authorities to be at the location and that they have been informed of your flight plan and safety procedures.
  • Always have a spotter/ground supervisor as part of your team to monitor air and ground traffic in the area and manage spectators that may come into the area.  When working in higher traffic areas you may need additional personnel filling this roll.
  • Make sure all team members are aware of and trained for their roles and clear on flight path and operational details prior to takeoff.  Make sure all team members are well rested and prepared for the operation.  If there are any doubts with the ability of any crew member have them replaced or scrub the operation.
  • When you are not in close proximity with all team members, or working in noisy environments, use radios for clear communication.
  • Walk the flight path prior to each flight to ensure there are no elements that could come in contact with the aircraft, such as wires, tree branches, vehicles, etc.  If the flight path is long it is a good idea to have a spotter located at the far end to help spot for potential problems.
  • Don’t let the client push you into doing something you feel uncomfortable or have safety concerns with.  You are solely responsible for safety during the operation and if needed need to be prepared to cancel if there are concerns.
  • Check that the areas is secure and free of animals, persons, and vehicles prior to takeoff.  Also pay close attention to birds that may enter the flight path during the flight.
  • Have the takeoff/landing zone clearly marked and secured.  In addition, have alternate landing/ditching areas established along the flight path in case of an emergency.  The use of pylons and safety tape is suggested in marking these areas so they are clearly visible.
  • Perform radio range check and verify all controls are working properly and radio and aircraft batteries are fully charged prior top each flight.
  • Announce takeoffs and landings to bystanders to ensure they are aware and stay clear during those phases of the flight.
  • In the event of an in flight issue the primary concern is the safety of bystanders and property.  This may require ditching the aircraft into the water or other areas that could lead to loss or damage of the aircraft, but this is secondary when it comes to safety.
  • Use an air horn or similar device to quickly indicate any emergencies.
  • Report any issues to the proper authorities and file any required incidents reports.
  • Perform post flight and regular inspection and maintenance of the aircraft and gear to ensure it is in proper ongoing working order.

Make safety your #1 concern. Fly safe.

One comment

  1. Thanks Mark, Great Tips for sure, In addition to securing take/off landing zone, I have found it useful to also pylon and tape the mission command area where I am piloting from and where the mission commander may be observing via goggles or secondary monitor. It helps with unintended interference/distraction from bystanders etc.


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