Why is it important to establish a drone program in your company, instead of simply adding drones to the list of tools your company uses?
Simply put, it is important to follow all of the steps to setup your drone program legally and safely. Drones can save lives, money and become an added benefit to your everyday workflow. The first step will be to figure out exactly what you want the drone to do. Mapping, marketing, roof inspection, these are just a few things that a drone can accomplish. Once you have your purpose, then it is important to put your safety program into place.
The first step to develop your safety program, is to study and take your 107 exam. Which will allow you to legally fly for compensation by the FAA and teach you the regulations. This allows you to be confident of where you can fly your drone. Second step is to look into liability and hull insurance for flying UAS. The third step is to create a safety manual with checks and balances to keep your program running smoothly and safely. Developing a pre-flight checklist and safety protocol for the field. Creating your safety documents first will allow for future training, operations and assurance that your program will all adhere to your safety protocol as you add additional pilots to your team.
Once you have your crew of pilots and they all have studied and obtained their 107 remote pilot certificate, and you know the missions that you want your drone to accomplish, next will be to select the type of drone system that will suit your needs. Talk to the professionals at Quadrocopter to understand the different options. Choosing your platform can be overwhelming, once you have decided on a system, the next step will be to order it and get trained on the system. Quadrocopter offers many different training courses, your team can take a training class together and work on developing your safety protocol together.
The next step will be operations and implementing your protocols and make sure that you team is on the same page. Working together and having regular inspections of the operations in the field will also provide a solid track record. This will give the assurance that your drone program will be successful and safe, minimizing your risks. If any part of your field operations change, there must be a change to your operations protocol and all of your pilots must be informed of the updates.
Further defining your missions in the field will allow for the proper training. Each mission has different requirements, for precision, path, altitude, control and equipment. You must clearly define your mission.
Risk tolerance, how much risk are you willing to accept and how can you minimize the risk of flight? Your team and discuss "what ifs?" If you crash, what are the repercussions, would the aircraft be affect, would the surroundings be affected, or people injured? If you have an incident with your drone, you will have to submit a report to the FAA.
These risk related questions will also help you define your limits of operation, considering weather, wind speed, or equipment and no/go decisions. As a 107 remote pilot is it up to you to decide if it is ok to fly.
Creating your governing documents, will define how you train your team and certify your pilots, how you handle maintenance and repair, how you operate in the field, and what type of documentation you will create after each flight and/or maintenance schedule.
It is important to put all of this in writing because your policies and procedures are one of the key tools for managing risk. Your governing documents should include but not be limited to: your training program, certifications, weather and equipment no/go parameters, maintenance program, your oversight process, flight and maintenance documentation, safety and mishap or near-miss reporting. Each drone program and governing documents will be different for every company, there is not one set in stone to fit all companies. However there are base lines to go by that can assist in creating these documents.
Once all of your steps are into place you need assurance to make sure that all steps are followed along the way. Part of your assurance program is to put checks and balances in place human behavior changes over time. Your assurance program is to locate any discrepancies and make the necessary corrections. Fixing any issues while they are small and making sure your team is all abiding to your program is the assurance step of your program. Your program will have more credibility if you document every incident along the way, also track your flights, pilots and program with the appropriate documentation and mitigating and lowering your risk.