For every professional operator, there are five essential phases of a flight job:
For an overview of a professional drone operation, check out this webinar from industry experts.
This guide primarily focuses on the planning phase and shows you how to increase revenue, decrease costs, and increase safety by using flight areas. By attaching a flight area to a planned flight in Skyward, everything is kept in one place, and your flight operations will be more efficient and more effective.
One of the most important parts of flight planning is understanding the location of the flight. In most cases, you already know the subject of the flight job by talking to the customer. We’ll use the term point-of-interest (POI) to refer to the subject of a flight job.
In many areas there will be obstructions such as buildings, utility lines, or tall trees. In addition, there may be avoid areas on the ground that you are not allowed to fly over. The term hazard will be used to refer to both obstructions and avoid areas.
The goal when using flight areas is to define an area that will allow you to successfully, efficiently, and safely complete a flight job at the customer’s point of interest.
This guide assumes you have already created an organization in Skyward. Here, you’ll see an overview for creating flight areas. For step-by-step instructions on creating a flight area, see this guide.
Click on the search icon to enter the address or latitude and longitude of the job location.
Before you begin defining a flight area, explore the airspace around the flight job location. See if the flight job location is within controlled airspace or an airport coordination zone. National aviation authorities require special coordination for commercial sUAS operations within certain distances from airports and heliports. The airport coordination zones on the Skyward map match those distances.
Explore the local area using the map to locate nearby airports that are surrounded by controlled airspace. These airports have control towers. The steps for coordinating commercial sUAS operations within controlled airspace or an airport coordination zone will be covered in the airspace section.
Name the flight area so that you can easily find it at a glance. The name of the flight area should communicate some basic information about the location, the owner or controller, and the type of site.
Using good naming conventions will save you time and make managing your operations straightforward, no matter how much it grows.
Depending on your type of operation, you may use the city name or the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) code for the nearest major airport for the general location. Use an address and site name for the specific location. You may also include the name of the client or site owner so that it is easy to associate the flight area with a specific customer.
√ A useful flight area name:
KJAX:1915 Wigmore St:Storage Yard:Nice Construction Co
X A name that may cause confusion later:
Storage Yard Photo Flight
You can always rename a flight area after it’s saved.
Draw a polygon or rectangle to enclose the area over which you may need to fly. Because the nearest major airport is KJAX, this flight area has been named: KJAX:1915 Wigmore St:Storage Yard:Nice Construction Co
Click on to place a marker on each customer point-of-interest (POI). Use customer-provided information to name the POIs. Add a description of the type of product that will be produced for each POI. Keep it simple. You can add more detail later.
Use the basic flight area and POIs to review the job with your customer. If you need to, add more detail to the POIs: structure height, special focus areas, or the type of product your customer needs. Add this information to the marker description.
A hazard is anything that might be dangerous to the aircraft or crew or that might prevent successful completion of the flight job. Place a hazard marker on obstructions or avoid areas that are near any of the points of interest.
An obstruction is anything that the aircraft may collide with or that might block the pilot’s line-of-sight to the aircraft. Mark obstructions to understand where and how high you should fly.
An avoid area is an area that you cannot fly over because you don’t have permission to do so or because the area itself is sensitive. For example, an area that normally has large numbers of unprotected people should be an avoid area.
Determine and mark the site access point. This may be an access road or entry gate or simply the flight job location itself.
Explore the flight area to find suitable places for staging areas near each POI. The final selection will be made at the site but locating options in advance will save valuable time. When choosing possible staging areas consider the following:
Anyone who is a member of your organization within Skyward can view and interact with the flight area. Invite them to add useful information to the POI markers and hazard markers.
Using a flight area to notify other airspace users
In the U.S., when operating under a blanket Certificate of Authorization or Waiver (COA), a Notice-to-Airmen (NOTAM) must be filed at least 24 hours, but not more than 72 hours, prior to the flight job. Detailed instructions for filing NOTAMs will be covered in another guide. To file a NOTAM you will need to know the location of the center of the flight area and the radius of a circle that completely encloses the flight area.
Using a flight area to notify participants and non-participants
Some flight jobs will require you to notify other people. These may be participants in the flight job or non-participants who are normally in the area. A printed browser view, screen capture or export of the flight area is a good way to show other people exactly where the aircraft will be flying and what it will be doing. This will save time, build confidence, and help ensure access to the flight area.
Using a flight area to stay compliant
Always be sure to check the Skyward Airspace Map just prior to your job to check for any temporary flight restrictions (TFRs) that may have been posted since you planned your flights. TFRs can arise at any time for a variety of reasons. As long as it’s connected to the Internet, the Skyward Airspace Map dynamically updates TFRs every five minutes.
Whenever special coordination is required, national aviation authorities normally require a graphical depiction of the specific flight area. You can submit your completed flight area to the national aviation authority. Detailed instructions for special coordination will be covered in separate guides.