Every month, we host a webinar on a different topic for commercial drone operators. I always ask our attendees to submit questions in advance so we can be sure to cover the issues that are most meaningful to them.
For our next webinar (this Thursday!), I’ve received hundreds of questions—more than ever before. Many of them have been around workflow and process.
- What are best practices for keeping my flight area free of non-participants?
- How do you make sure the flight crew knows what data they should gather?
- Are there safety precautions I should take every time or only in certain situations?
- I’m spending a lot more time on admin work than I thought I would. How do I create a repeatable process?
I asked an expert for advice. Andrew Dennison is COO of LIFT Technologies, which has one of the most experienced and professional commercial drone operations in the United States. LIFT is a division of Clayco, Inc, one of the nation’s largest construction and engineering firms.
Though LIFT works primarily on construction and surveying projects, their workflow is a great example for any industry because it prioritizes safety, client satisfaction, and efficiency—paramount for every business.
Andrew will be presenting during Thursday’s webinar, but I wanted to share in advance the process that LIFT Technologies follows.
Safe, Efficient Drone Operations in 12 Steps
Before the operation
1. Understand your client deliverables
Find out the client’s goal for the project—what are they expecting. Ask questions, in person or over the phone, and then email over a bulleted list for confirmation.
Create an official scope of work that includes the exact specifications and deliverables.
Once the client has signed off on the scope of work, you’re ready to start planning.
2. Check the airspace
There’s a reason the pilots at LIFT Technologies check the airspace as the first step of the job plan. For the most professional commercial drone operators, such as LIFT, meeting regulatory requirements is part of doing business.
“We use Skyward to see where the job is located and what type of airspace we’re dealing with,” Andrew said. “We’ve had several instances where a job site hasn’t been covered by our Blanket COA, and we’ve had to tell the client that we can’t fly until we are approved for a Civil COA.”
3. Schedule the date & time of the flight, including the operator and observer
It may sound obvious, but if your business has dozens of flights per week at far-flung job sites, your ops can easily be derailed if you don’t know when your drones and pilots are available.
4. Conduct a safety briefing
Depending on the type of work site, get permission to fly over nonparticipants in the area and conduct a safety briefing. A safety briefing at a construction site will be different than one on a closed-set film shoot.
Pro tip: LIFT pilots and observers always wear personal protective equipment onsite.
5. Inspect the site
LIFT Technologies frequently flies at construction sites, which can make remote site inspections difficult.
“On every construction site, there are cranes, and they change location every day,” Andrew explained. “They may be 180 feet or 220 feet in the air. We also do a lot of surveying. Last week there was a water tower that was 280 feet.
That’s why a careful onsite inspection for hazards and obstacles, as well as takeoff and landing sites, is so crucial.
“If we have multiple jobs at the same site, we’ll add the takeoff and landing sites to the Skyward Airspace Map,” Andrew said.
6. Secure the takeoff and landing zones
Make sure it’s obvious where the drone is taking off and landing.
7. Conduct the preflight checklist prior to takeoff
Preflight checklists ensure that are standard across all of aviation. LIFT uses a 20-item checklist.
8. Launch the mission
LIFT Technologies takes pilot culture very seriously.
“Although there aren’t any people in the aircraft that we fly, we treat them as if there were,” Andrew said. “Both the pilot and the observer are equally responsible for every flight. If anyone sees anything, they speak up.”
9. Conduct the postflight checklist
The LIFT team has modified their postflight checklist over time: They now review the data they’ve collected before leaving the job site.
“We learned the hard way,” Andrew said. “We need to know that we actually collected the data that we were supposed to.”
This step is a huge timesaver.
“Sometimes you’ll think you’ve captured all the borders, but you’ll be 20 feet away from the edge,” Andrew said. “Or maybe images look fine on your phone, but then you pull it up on the computer, and everything is blurry. Look at your video or images before you leave to make sure you got what you want—especially if you drove a couple hours to get there.”
10. Clean up and don’t forget your drone onsite!
Pick up the landing pad. Tell the site manager or project manager that the operation is complete. And then when everybody’s in agreement, we leave to deliver or process the data.
Back at the office
11. Log your flights
Keeping a comprehensive record of all your business’s drone flights makes sense—you’ll have everything in one place, outside of individual ground control stations. Your pilots will also be able to track their flight hours.
“We use Skyward to keep track of every flight we’ve ever flown,” Andrew said.
12. Deliver the data to your client
This step depends on the deliverables outlined in the scope of work. It may be as simple as uploading raw footage for the client to download. But if a client has commissioned footage for a marketing video, you may need to do some editing. If it’s for a survey, you’ll use imaging software to stitch the images together.
*Photo images courtesy of LIFT Technologies