How to safely plan a drone flight.
Updated: Aug 31, 2022
Welcome to Frome Drone Companies' first blog post. Today we will be looking at all considerations that a drone operator should consider when planning drone flights and what Civil Aviation Authority regulations drone pilots need to be aware of before they start their flight to ensure their own and public safety. Before flying drones or any other unmanned aircraft, you should have already obtained your Flyer ID and Operator ID from the Civil Aviation Authority website. Your drone or model aircraft should also be labelled with your Operator ID before you undertake any flight.
Consider the flying weight of your drone.
Drones are sorted into 3 main categories under current regulations. The weight of the drone will dictate which category fits into:
A1 - Drones under < 250g (Fly over uninvolved persons).
A2 - Drones >250g and < 2KG (Fly near uninvolved persons).
A3 - Drones > 2KG and self-made drones (Fly away from uninvolved persons).
All drones regardless of weight are limited to 120m/400 Ft Above Ground Level. A2 drones require a minimum horizontal separation from uninvolved persons of 30m during take-off and landing and during flight the minimum horizontal separation increases to 50m. It is advised that you fly with a 1:1 ratio for horizontal and vertical separation and as low as possible to avoid manned aircraft, for example, if flying at an altitude of 100m then a horizontal separation of 100m will apply. A3 drones require 150m separations from people and residential, commercial and recreational zones due to their potential to cause injury and damage should an emergency arise.
Know the limitations of your equipment.
Ingress Protection Rating.
Maximum Take Off Mass.
Each type of drone will have differing capabilities, drone operators should consult their drone manual for the technical specifications to understand those limits. Drones are rated on a scale of 1-5 for wind resistance, whilst knowing this number is useful ultimately the technical speciation will dictate the highest wind you can fly in. Practice will be required to be high at the higher end of this range and is not advised for new pilots.
Drones should not be flown in the rain and icy conditions. Rain may cause an electrical short in the motor or across the terminals of the Lithium battery pins. Icy conditions may cause moisture to collect on the propeller blades and freeze which may affect the performance of the lift-generating surfaces of the blades.
Typically most drones have a battery life of approx. 20mins. Ensure you have enough batteries to complete the planned flight and it is not recommended to run Lithium batteries below 20%. You should also consider the remaining battery life before undertaking a new task if you land between flights.
The manufacturer's manual will have a Maximum Take Off Mass for the drone you are flying, exceeding this limit will have negative impacts on battery life and performance and possibly make the drone unstable and unsafe to fly.
Consider your location.
A1 drones offer the most forgiving regulations, however, this doesn't mean you can fly anywhere without consequences. There are many tools at your disposal today, Frome Drone Company highly recommends using Altitude Angel's Drone Safety Map to provide you with the most up-to-date information for your area.
Be aware of the dynamic landscape in aerial operations, you should consult this resource before flying to receive up-to-date information which affects your flight plan and Notices to Airman reports. Notices to Airman Reports (NOTAMS) provided information on temporary restrictions of airspace due to planned activities ongoing in that area.
What category of airspace are you planning to fly in? Are you close to an aerodrome or airport flight restricted zone? You will require permission from the nearest Air Traffic Control, who will require information on your drone flight plans before flying so they can alert other airspace users of your presence before flying in controlled airspace. Please also be aware of the military low flying system, where military aircraft can operate down to 250 Ft Above Ground Level as a fixed-wing aircraft or at the surface level if a rotary aircraft WITHOUT PRIOR WARNING.
With tools such as google maps at our disposal, it is possible to conduct an assessment of ground hazards on our take-off and landing site before arrival at the drone flight location. Utilization of these tools allows us to assess the suitability of the site in consideration.
Be sure to consider the following:
Fields. (Could there be Livestock?)
People's ability to move out of the way during an emergency.
Locations where manned aircraft may be operational.
Before flying, a remote pilot should consider the onsite conditions as these may differ from what you discovered during your Pre-Flight Assessment.
Things to consider:
Presence of ground hazards which were not spotted in pre-flight assessments.
Suitability of your proposed landing and take-off area.
Weather on the day suitable for flying?
Do you need to let Air Traffic Control know your drone operation is about to begin?
If you discover anything that you are unhappy with when you arrive on site DO NOT FLY. It is better to fly another day than to risk an incident and ruin an otherwise enjoyable flight!
All Flight planning should be thorough but it doesn't need to be a daunting task. The weight and characteristics of your equipment may have been considerations you made before purchasing your drone but before flying, a drone pilot should get familiar with their drone manual. Pilots should take a methodical approach when assessing a location, and understand the area in which they plan to fly and the airspace around it. Much of this work can be done without leaving the house and there are plenty of tools at the pilot's disposal to make the process simpler. Once on-site, you should verify your findings from earlier by walking around the intended fly area and making note of any additional ground hazards you find.