sUAS Airspace Research: 5 Tips to Help With Your Drone Flight Mission Planning
Over the coming months in a series of guest blogs, Altitude Angel will be asking members of the UTM and UAV community to share their views, opinions, thoughts and experiences on a range of topics we hope you'll find interesting, entertaining and informative.
Following our recent announcement on extending the Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (L.A.A.N.C.) service to our products, meaning U.S.-based commercial drone pilots can now use Altitude Angel to access airspace at around 600 U.S. airports – free of charge, we asked U.S.-based UAV training gurus UAV Coach to give us their top five tips for planning a flight.
Our thanks go out to Alan and Isabella at UAV Coach for their blog.
We hope you enjoy,
Stephen Farmer, Head of Corporate Communications & PR
Being able to conduct airspace research is the trademark of a professional, well-prepared drone pilot that clients or customers can trust. It requires you to analyse an upcoming flight mission, look at the Sectional Chart, interpret the regulations, and think through your intended flight operations and how to best mitigate risk.
All of this can be intimidating for a lot of folks, but in this article we simplify the process by running through the basics of conducting airspace research as a drone pilot.
5 Tips for Conducting sUAS Airspace Research and Planning Your Flight
You can start doing airspace research days or weeks before a flight. We recommend that you start early. The sooner you understand the environment you’re flying in, both from a regulatory and also a risk-mitigation perspective, the better. Let’s get you started with these 5 tips for conducting sUAS airspace research and planning your flight:
Tip 1. Understand how airspace is regulated
Airspace is regulated differently in every country, so you’ll want to do some research on the drone laws in your location.
Most countries have a designated aviation authority responsible for regulating the airspace and setting up drone regulations. In the U.S. that authority is the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and in the U.K. it’s the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). They’re responsible for managing all aspects of their respective country’s air space and for setting the guidelines for recreational and commercial drone pilots.
In the U.S., if you are flying commercially under the Part 107 regulations, you’ll need to determine whether you’ll be flying in Class G uncontrolled airspace vs. Class B, C, D, or E controlled airspace. If you’re in Class G airspace, no permission from the FAA is required, but if you’re in Class B, C, D, or E airspace, you’ll need clearance from the FAA (more on that under Tip 2).
You’ll also want to check for any Special Use or Prohibited airspace areas such as military operations areas, penitentiary systems, and national parks. You can find this information by consulting a Sectional Chart or another airspace research tool.
There are many different tools you can use to conduct airspace research. Many mobile apps make airspace simple with color-coded maps and map filters that you can customize to your specific mission. Altitude Angel’s DroneSafetyMap.com offers tools to research airspace in 40+ countries to help you plan and conduct your flights safely, efficiently, and remain compliant with local laws.
Tip 2. Get additional authorization if needed
U.S. drone pilots planning to fly commercially in Class B, C, D, or E controlled airspace need authorization from the FAA.
The FAA’s Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC) initiative gives drone pilots the ability to apply for near-instant airspace authorization using a mobile/web application. It’s remarkably easy. You open up an app, put in your mission details, and request access.
So which apps can you use? The FAA has partnered with and private companies like Altitude Angel, and DJI to provide LAANC services. As a provider, these companies have access to real-time airspace data directly from the FAA.
While authorization to fly in controlled airspace can be obtained almost instantly through LAANC, there are other types of missions that need up to 90 days for approval. Some examples include flights beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS), flights over people, and flights over 400 feet above ground level. These require a Part 107 waiver from the FAA. See the process for obtaining a Part 107 waiver here.
Tip 3. Build your situational awareness
In addition to working out the details of the airspace you’ll be operating in, it’s also good to think about the surrounding physical landscape. You can open up Google Maps, drive to the location, or look at other available photos of the area, and address questions such as:
- Where are my different take-off and landing zones?
- Is there potential for electromagnetic interference?
- What does the local terrain look like, both natural and man-made?
- Are there towers, wires, buildings, trees, or other obstructions to look out for?
- What kind of pedestrians and/or animals can I expect operating in this area?
- Would I benefit from having a Visual Observer (VO)? (More on this under Tip 5)
- Based on the flight mission, do I have emergency landing or holding areas mapped out?
When you scout out the location in person ahead of time, you can get a good read on what type of pedestrian/car traffic, manned aircraft traffic, etc., goes on there day-to-day. (It’s also helpful if your flight planning tool of choice offers notifications to you about nearby manned aviation activity.)
Bottom line, it’s a best practice to think about your immediate flight area and what your actual operations will look like the day of the flight.
Tip 4. Check your TFRs and NOTAMs
While Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs) and Notices to Airmen (NOTAMs) are something you’ll want to check just prior to operating to ensure you’re not missing any last-minute additions, these are alerts you can (and should) check for ahead of time as well.
On any given day, there are typically several TFRs in place. It’s required by law that you check TFRs and NOTAMs before flying. It will prevent you from flying into sensitive areas, such as active emergency response areas and areas with ongoing firefighting efforts. Failure to comply with TFRs and NOTAMs can lead to serious issues, and not to mention some serious monetary fines as well.
You can check for TFRs and NOTAMs at the following links:
Historically, keeping up with TFRs and NOTAMs has been tough to do when you're looking at multiple links, but the DroneSafetyMap.com makes this really easy. The app places all the safety data you need in one place, including real-time updates on TFRs and NOTAMs in your specific location.
Tip 5. Consider using a visual observer
Even if you've dotted all your ‘i’s and crossed all your ‘t’s with mission planning, it's nice to have someone on site to help with take-off and landing safety, to scout for air traffic, etc. This crew member is known as a Visual Observer (VO).
Your VO will serve as a second set of eyes, monitoring the drone in flight in order to support the Remote Pilot in Command (that’s you!).
If someone is performing the role of VO, it’s important that he or she be properly trained. Just imagine the difference between someone frantically shouting, “Look out, a thing is flying somewhere nearby!” and someone calmly telling you, “Bird, twelve o’clock high, moving slowly away.” We bet the latter sounds much more helpful. To make sure your VO is sufficiently trained, check out this Guide to Training Your Visual Observer.
|REMINDER: Once your flight is completed, we encourage pilots to report any incidents through our online Incident Reporting Form. This anonymous web portal gives commercial and recreational drone pilots the ability to share their experiences with other drone operators and the wider community, with a goal to learn from mistakes and grow the industry as a whole.
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