As a flight instructor, I get to play two very different roles. A couple times a year, I’m a flight instructor for military pilots. The rest of the time, I work as a Skyward trainer, which gives me the chance to train brand new corporate drone pilots — some of whom have no background in aviation and have never laid hands on the control sticks of a drone.
On one hand, teaching businesspeople how to fly drones is a very different experience from the UAS training courses I provide for military personnel. On the other hand, there’s plenty of crossover when it comes to safety, compliance, and consistency. That’s especially true when it comes to Standard Operating Procedures, or SOPs.
I’d like to provide a few insights on the basics of effective standard operating procedures, and how you can put them to work within your corporate drone team.
Why are standard operating procedures important for drone operations?
When I lead drone training classes for businesses, one of the first questions I’ll ask the students is, “Why are standard operating procedures important?” I’ll get a variety of answers from the group. Then I bring it back to what’s in the name: standards. SOPs set one consistent standard that everybody must operate under.
Because I come from a military aviation background, standard operating procedures are molded in my brain. I can tell you specific SOPs that have to do with the drone world, Army regulations, and other realms. That’s because with an organization as large, complex, and widespread as the Army, it’s imperative that everyone does their job consistently. It’s essential for safety and for effective performance.
The same is true when using drones for civilian business, though the scale and mission may be different. SOPs are still so important because they mitigate risk. When your pilots fly drones in a way that is predictable and consistent with set policies, it minimizes the chance of a crash, an airspace infraction, or other avoidable errors.
In the end, SOPs put everybody on the same page, and they lay out the same set of expectations from the top down. Everyone, from executives to pilots, should understand these standards and use them as the basis for every mission.
What should be included in drone standard operating procedures?
What’s included in your standard operating procedures will vary depending on the size and scale of your drone program, your use cases, and other factors. However, there are some common themes that are pretty consistent across various industries and company sizes.
Here are some factors to consider when spelling out your company’s SOPs:
- Defining roles and responsibilities (What does a program manager do? A pilot in command? A visual observer?)
- Preflight procedures (Risk assessments, stick checks, battery checks, etc.)
- Postflight procedures (Flight logging, data checks, etc.)
- How to manage and store drone hardware
- Incident procedures and reporting
- Documentation practices, such as naming conventions for missions and equipment
- Training proficiency requirements
- Ongoing flight currency requirements
It can be a lot to think about! And it takes extra effort to make sure it’s not a “set it and forget it” process — you need to make sure your SOPs are integrated into your everyday operations, and that all your personnel working with drones are aware of your standards. A once-a-year training seminar may not be enough to ensure compliance.
Skyward can help you set up standard operating procedures for your company
At Skyward, our goal is to equip enterprises with everything they need to launch and maintain successful drone programs. That includes standard operating procedures — and there are a few ways Skyward helps with this.
First, Skyward can help you establish your company’s own custom SOPs. Skyward offers a package of standard operating procedures called Take Flight. But this isn’t just one huge, generic package of hundreds of pages of policies. What sets Skyward’s Take Flight package apart is that we consult with you and your company to tailor these SOPs to fit your business, use cases, and standards. Bringing on a Skyward aviation expert to help can cut weeks or months out of the time it can take to set up standards on your own. And of course, Take Flight can be bundled with Skyward’s Program Start package.
Skyward can also help you implement your SOPs through training. When I conduct an on-site flight training with a company, I first research their SOPs. While we’re doing classroom-style training, I pull up certain sections of the procedures and review them with the students to make sure they understand the process. Then, when we deploy to the field, we follow the company’s SOPs as we run through practice flights, setting the pattern for how real missions should be conducted in the field.
I’m proud to be able to take the same high standards of consistency and safety from military aviation and apply them to civilian commercial drone use. It’s something that I resonate with, and I’m glad my role lets me equip drone teams with those same principles.