Here’s why your drone program needs an operations manual

Sure, operations manuals aren’t exactly the most exciting aspect of your drone program.

And, when people hear the word “manuals,” they usually skip right along. But, that being said, they’re one of the most important aspects of it.

Any time you and your organization use drones, you need to have (and follow) your operations manual.

Why is an operations manual so important?

Drones offer an incredible number of both fiscal and safety advantages.

They’re not only helpful, but becoming nearly indispensable across various industries, whether it’s in construction, surveying, airports, gas detection.

In order to get the most out of your drone, you’ll want to stick with a safe, organized methodology for every project. To do that, you’ll want a solid operations manual in place … one that adapts with you.

In the U.S., the FAA doesn’t require an operations manual for UAS pilots or drone programs, even though many people believe it should. However, that stands to change as commercial usage continues to increase.

In fact, many countries already adopted ops manuals as the norm. For example, in the United Kingdom, the CAA divides operations into three categories: open, specific, and certified.

“Specific” or “certified” are considered as riskier, thus, they require the submission of an operations manual for approval.

If you’re developing your operations manual for the first time, or you’re making significant changes, you’ll want to work with a drone consultancy to tailor-make a living document that fits your specific needs.

Here are some of the basics you’ll need in place.

Roles & Responsibilities

Complexity plays a key role in drone operations.

As complexity increases, so too does your duty of care.

For that reason, your operations manual must identify the roles and responsibilities of each UAS team member.

Although the pilot is usually your main focus, they’re not the only one that needs a written plan in place. In fact, program managers, repair technicians, purchasing agents, safety officers, and visual observers all play crucial roles in each mission.

Your operations manual should cover them by detailing specific duties for each position.

And, oftentimes, people wear different hats in different settings. A drone pilot might have one set of duties during flight, and an entire different set while back in the office.

Let your team know exactly what’s expected of them, from start to finish. It goes a long way towards building trust, responsibility, confidence, and a safe, prosperous drone program.

Furthermore, by putting the duties in writing, it eliminates confusion.

Planning

Successful missions start with a plan.

After all, there’s a lot to consider – personnel, equipment and, of course, safety.

Basically, the planning portion of your operations manual represents your standing on safety.

There’s always potential danger involved with any aircraft flight, and drones aren’t immune. Whether it’s unforeseen weather, mechanical issues, or even birds, you’ll always want to prepare for the worst-case scenario.

Your drone may suddenly lose power. Or, a bird might fly into your flight path and cause a wreck.

How would you respond if an emergency requires the activation of a Temporary Flight Restriction during flight? Just because it’s unlikely, doesn’t mean it can’t happen.

Thinking about what can occur, and having a response plan, saves you and your team from countless headaches down the road.

With all of the situations that might arise, it’s not easy to come up with each on your own.

Talk to others within the drone industry who’ve “been there” and “done that.”  It goes a long way toward filling in the blanks.

And, put a drone training program in place so your team maintains preparedness. You won’t regret it.

Day-to-Day Operations

Daily tasks add structure to your operation.

In this section of your operations manual, you’ll cover standard UAV missions, from pre-flight checklists, to flying the mission and landing safely.

While the planning section focuses on any potential problems and how to solve them, the operations section serves as a step-by-step guide for incident-free drone missions.

In it, you’ll want to break down the three phases of drone operations: pre-flight procedures, in-flight operations, and post-flight procedures. 

Before taking off, ensure that your aircraft is safe and ready to fly.

Are the propellors properly attached? Is all of the hardware serviceable? Did you install the software updates? Is your team up-to-date on training?

A good pre-flight checklist depicts potential safety issues before your drone leaves the ground.

In-flight operations covers drone functionality, as well as any limitations, such as height restrictions, for a given mission.

Each member of the team must follow specific drone safety procedures. The manual’s post-flight section aids in both the breakdown of the drone and the recording of flight data.

It’s best practice to keep a log of flights and scheduled maintenance. Make sure the operations manual covers this, too.

Bringing It All Together

Your operations manuals supports each drone mission, from prep to post-flight.

In order to get the most our of your program, invest time in creating this living document to ensure safe, efficient, and successful flights.

Set written expectations for your team, and guide them through from start to finish. Your operations manual, if done correctly, prepares them to handle nearly any situation. And, they’ll know exactly what to do once each mission ends.

Whether you’re creating an operations manual as part of a government requirement, or just to maintain alignment, it’s a step you won’t regret taking.

Do you need support with your operations manual? We specialize in that, no matter where you’re at in the world!

An operations manual is the foundation of starting a successful commercial drone operation and establishes how you intend to plan, operate and review your operations. It’s a complex, comprehensive document and is the central hub around your missions, so it’s important to get it right.

If you are already using drones, we can review your existing document to ensure it is appropriate for your operation and more importantly, help you put systems in place to validate it. If you’re new to drone operations, we will provide guidance to successfully create your manual. Consortiq™ has helped over 1,000 pilots and organizations write their operations manuals.

To get started, just complete the form below, or call us (numbers at the bottom of this page).

We’ll help you find your better way!

David Daly - Contributing Author

David Daly - Contributing Author

David Daly, is an award-winning photographer/writer and licensed (FAA) Commercial sUAS pilot. A graduate of the United States Naval Academy, David is a former Marine Corps officer with a BS in Oceanography and has earned his MBA from the University of Redlands. David has worked for Fortune 100 companies and has a background in aerospace, construction, military/defense, real estate, and technology.

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