Anyone who flies a drone needs to follow the rules. The consequences for failing to do so can be strict, especially for commercial drone pilots. Breaking drone laws can not only land you with huge fines and even jail time — it could also result in your entire drone program being shut down.
But even if you’re following every regulation, members of the public or even law enforcement may not trust your drone operation. Some members of the public tend to eye any drone flight with suspicion. So how can you show you’re a professional drone pilot who will help, not harm, the community?
Here are a few best practices I got from one of Skyward’s Professional Services trainers on how to maximize positive public perception of your drone operation.
Always follow federal drone regulations and local drone laws
The first step to avoiding a run-in with the public or law enforcement is to always follow the rules — and be able to prove your compliance.
That means it’s critical to understand the laws and regulations that apply. There are several layers to drone laws. In the U.S., it starts with Part 107, the federal rules for commercial drone operations. Part 107 requires any drone pilot flying for business to get a remote pilot certificate and abide by airspace and operational limitations.
But, as my coworker Mike Danielak wrote about before, local drone laws can also apply at the state, county, and city level. Some homeowners associations even have special rules against operating in or around neighborhoods.
Skyward’s software is designed to help you comply with the rules. Skyward’s drone airspace map simplifies airspace data at the federal level. Our flight planning tools help pilots set boundaries for their missions and avoid hazards. This can help you avoid flying in areas such as parks that may be protected by local regulations.
Skyward’s flight logging insights display exactly where and when each of your flights took place, including flight paths and altitude. You can easily filter by date, location, pilot, and more. If someone sends an inquiry or complaint about your drone operation, you can produce these flight logs to show exactly where you flew and prove you followed the laws.
If you’re interested in Skyward’s software, you can start a free trial of Skyward.
How West Virginia Dept. of Transportation uses Skyward to fly with confidence
Following the rules and documenting flights in Skyward helped the West Virginia Department of Transportation (WVDOT) stay out of trouble. WVDOT uses Skyward for LAANC airspace authorizations, operation planning, and flight logging.
One time, Jesse Bennett, Statewide Survey Unit Leader at WVDOT, was flying a drone in an area near a small airport. A member of the public mistakenly assumed that Jesse was flying without authorization and reported the drone to the FAA. The FAA launched an investigation and contacted Jesse.
“This is where having Skyward was extremely helpful for me, because I was able to pull my flight logs right off of Skyward,” said Jesse. “I was also able to send the investigator my Notice of Authorization for the airspace within minutes of contact.”
The investigation was resolved within 24 hours. The investigator quickly saw that Jesse had operated responsibly and was authorized to fly in the area.
“He actually seemed pretty impressed with how quickly I got everything to them and how professional the documents were,” Jesse added. “He basically told me at the end of the investigation, ‘Keep up the good work.’”
Follow best practices for public perception during pre-flight and in-flight operations
Beyond the letter of the law, it’s wise to follow some best practices for drone operations that demonstrate professionalism to the public. These steps are often included in your company’s standard operating procedures.
Jesse suggested a best practice to proactively put people at ease who might be concerned by your operation: “Even if you’re flying in an area where no airspace authorization is required, talk to them.” For example, before flying in the uncontrolled airspace near a helipad, Jesse spoke with the medical evacuation team that owned it. They were appreciative and let Jesse know his operation was okay — whereas they had reported a rogue drone pilot to the FAA a few months prior.
I ran into a similar situation myself while planning a recent flight. I knew my flight was permitted by federal and local drone laws, but I would be flying near a retirement community. I called ahead, just in case. They were grateful for the call and gave me permission. They also let me know that a university up the road had recently called the police on a construction company that had been flying drones (safely and legally) on a construction site next door. The retirement community, university, and construction company now had a written agreement concerning where drones could and could not fly — an agreement I never would have discovered otherwise.
This written agreement probably wasn’t binding on me, and I could have flown with little risk of legal consequences. But calling ahead potentially saved me from a very uncomfortable encounter and a chat with police. Plus, it showed I was acting as a good neighbor.
Skyward’s best practices for professionalism and public perception of drone operations
Rodney Murray, an expert drone consultant on Skyward’s Professional Services team, offered several more best practices to show professionalism and improve public perception of drone operations. Here are a few of them:
- Wear a high-visibility vest, and make sure everyone in the area can see you’re the drone pilot.
- Use cones to mark out your take-off and landing areas.
- Have your paperwork on hand — at least digitally, and even better, physically. This includes your drone pilot certification, airspace authorization, drone registration, and any other relevant documents.
- Never skip pre-flight checklists or risk assessments.
- Anticipate that you could be confronted, and don’t be caught off-guard.
- If confronted, navigate the drone to a safe landing before trying to resolve the issue.
By taking these steps, it should be clear you know what you’re doing. Even if you are stopped, it can go a long way toward showing that you’re a responsible pilot with the licenses and authorizations required to fly in the area.
Looking for more drone best practices for your company?
Skyward’s blog is full of drone industry news & best practices. If you’re looking to set up your drone program’s policies with expert support, check out Skyward’s package of customizable policies and procedures. This package is built specifically to help companies start a drone program or improve their existing standard operating procedures.