With the current COVID-19 pandemic, we’re all encountering some new and unusual problems that require creative solutions. At Skyward, we’re making adjustments to the way we work, live, and even conduct flight operations. But we’re still working hard to support our customers who are maintaining critical infrastructure and providing essential services to our communities.

This is especially true for Skyward’s Aviation Development Centers, where I work. Usually, we meet up in the office and the field to test and develop aviation technologies for Skyward and Verizon, and to work with our customers on testing advanced use cases. But for now, we’re following stay-at-home rules and being very careful to limit personal interactions.

Under usual circumstances, disinfecting drones and equipment is an occasional practice. But with heightened concerns around spreading the coronavirus, we’ve begun to disinfect our equipment any time we transfer it from person to person — both before and after the handoff.

We’ve taken a close look at guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to determine how we can effectively disinfect sensitive electronic equipment like drones, batteries, and radios. We’ve developed a set of guidelines for our operations, and we wanted to share it with you to help you keep your drone operations running safely.

Please note: While the guidelines for cleaning and sanitizing are based on best practices from the CDC and EPA, we don’t make any claims to be an authority on preventing the spread of disease. Be sure to check authoritative sources in your area, like the CDC and the World Health Organization (WHO), for the latest guidelines to limit the spread of this disease. These tips are intended for an environment in which no known infected people are present, so they may not be suitable for a hospital or other emergency response location.

Step 1: Take personal precautions

As our first step, Skyward has developed a general plan for reducing potential exposure to the coronavirus. When possible, we’re working from home, and in the case of any suspected illness, we are self-isolating. When we do meet in person, we follow CDC guidelines by maintaining a social distance of at least 6 feet and frequently washing our hands with soap and water.

We’re also taking additional steps to keep our workspaces, vehicles, and facilities safe. Following CDC guidelines, we wear gloves to reduce contact with frequently-touched surfaces and to keep ourselves from touching our faces, eyes, and mouths. For each piece of equipment, we try to have the fewest practical number of personnel handle it. These are just a few examples, and we recommend you develop a plan specific to your operations, facilities, and workspaces to mitigate these risks.

Step 2: Assess what you need to clean

While we are carefully sanitizing frequent touchpoints such as doorknobs, desks, and vehicles, we also regularly handle sensitive electronic equipment. Depending on manufacturer recommendations, it may be inadvisable to disinfect electronic devices like drones, ground control stations, radios, and computers with cleaning sprays or harsh chemicals. You’ll want to determine which items require careful cleaning and determine the safest and most effective method for sanitizing the equipment while not damaging sensitive electronics components.

Step 3: Prepare your cleaning agent

The following cleaning agents meet the EPA’s criteria for use against the virus that causes COVID-19 (with many more options included in the link above):

  • 70% isopropyl alcohol wipes
  • 70% isopropyl alcohol spray cleaner
  • Lysol disinfecting spray
  • Hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol

Please remember that for personnel protection, handwashing with soap and water is one of the most effective methods to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Step 4: Test the cleaning agent on your equipment

Due to the harsh nature of these cleaning chemicals, be sure to test the solution on a surface before using it more broadly. We recommend using a small amount of cleaner on every material to be cleaned — metals, rubbers, plastics — and allowing at least 15 minutes to observe any changes in color or evidence of damage.

Step 5: Sanitize your equipment

After a successful test, here’s the workflow we recommend for cleaning drones:

  1. Wash hands for 20 seconds using soap and water. If soap is unavailable, use hand sanitizer.
  2. Wear disposable gloves to clean and disinfect. (Note that wearing gloves is not a substitute for hand-washing.)
  3. Using the EPA-approved cleaner of your choice, wipe down the exterior of the case in which the equipment is stored. Be sure to sanitize all handles, latches, and other touchpoints. Leave solution on the surface for at least one minute.
  4. Remove the drone and any other equipment from the case. Disconnect from power and remove batteries.
  5. Sanitize the interior of the case, being sure to clean all accessible areas and touchpoints.
  6. Carefully and lightly wipe down all accessible areas of the drone. Be sure no liquid enters the interior of the equipment being sanitized.
  7. Carefully and lightly wipe down the remaining equipment, including batteries, propellers, charging stations, connectors, cords, tablets, and ground control stations. Again, be cautious that liquid does not enter sensitive areas.
  8. Allow the drone and all sanitized equipment at least 15 minutes to completely dry before repacking into the storage case.
  9. Place sanitized equipment apart from other potentially contaminated equipment. 
  10. Wash hands with soap and water (or, if unavailable, use hand sanitizer).

Step 6: Repeat frequently

Drones and equipment should be disinfected in this manner every time they change hands from one employee to the next, or before they are put into storage. If a member of your team could have been exposed to or developed a confirmed case of the coronavirus, be sure to thoroughly sanitize any equipment the individual may have handled. When possible, remove the equipment to a quarantined area to allow time for any viruses to be naturally eliminated (at least 72 hours).

We at Skyward hope you are staying safe and healthy. We also hope your drone program continues to see success during this time of uncertainty. If there’s anything Skyward can do to support your drone program during this crisis, please reach out and let us know.

Drone Program Management Product Webinar

List of Resources:

  1. CDC – Coronavirus (COVID-19) Resource Page: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html
  2. EPA – Coronavirus (COVID-19) Resource Page: https://www.epa.gov/coronavirus
  3. CDC – Cleaning and Disinfecting Your Facility: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/disinfecting-building-facility.html?CDC_AA_refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cdc.gov%2Fcoronavirus%2F2019-ncov%2Fprepare%2Fdisinfecting-building-facility.html
  4. WHO – Coronavirus (COVID-19) Resource Page: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019
  5. CDC – Social Distancing Quarantine, and Isolation: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/social-distancing.html
  6. CDC – How to Protect Yourself and Others from COVID-19: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/prevention.html
  7. CDC – Cleaning and Disinfection of Non-emergency Transport Vehicles: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/organizations/disinfecting-transport-vehicles.html
  8. CDC – Cleaning and Disinfecting Your Facility: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/disinfecting-building-facility.html
  9. CDC – Cleaning and Disinfection for Community Facilities: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/organizations/cleaning-disinfection.html
  10. CDC – Cleaning and Disinfection for Households: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/cleaning-disinfection.html
  11. EPA – Disinfectants for Use Against SARS-COV-2: https://www.epa.gov/pesticide-registration/list-n-disinfectants-use-against-sars-cov-2
  12. CDC – When and How to Wash Your Hands: https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/when-how-handwashing.html
  13. Lysol Disinfectant Spray Usage Information: https://www.lysol.com/products/disinfectant-spray/lysol-disinfectant-spray-crisp-linen/
  14. CDC – Hand Santizer Use: https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/hand-sanitizer-use.html
  15. CDC – Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Fact Sheet: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/disinfecting-building-facility-H.pdf
  16. CDC – Implementing Safety Practices for Workers Exposed to COVID-19: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/critical-workers/implementing-safety-practices.html
  17. WHO – Q&A on Coronaviruses (COVID-19): https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/q-a-coronaviruses