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What’s That Droning Noise?!

Good Communication is Essential to Drone Safety

By Michael O'Shea

Source: FAA Safety Briefing, May/June 2020

Drone

Communication is key to the safe operation of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), or drones. Crew Resource Management (CRM) involves good communication between the remote pilot-in-command (RPIC) and the visual observer (VO) for both normal and abnormal operations (e.g., loss of control, fly-offs, or de-confliction with manned aircraft). With the RPIC’s attention usually focused on the flight controls and the UAS camera monitor, it is important for the rest of the crew to provide effective communication with the RPIC to improve situational awareness and avoid any possible flight conflicts, thus increasing the overall safety of the operation.

In UAS operations, the one area of communication that can be easily taken for granted is contact between the ground control system (GCS) and the drone. In some cases, a fly away and/or loss of control situation occurs when the GCS has not captured enough GPS signals, or when radio frequency interference (RFI) is prohibiting or weakening the connection between the GCS and the drone. In your pre-flight checklist, and while operational, ensure that this crucial connection has been made and the signal remains strong.

It is also important to have good communication with the FAA. The FAA provides numerous resources for the safe operation of drones in the National Airspace System (NAS). This includes what you have to do to fly in the NAS, as well as information about new rules or rule changes. The agency has a dedicated team in the Office of Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration that works with other FAA offices and serves as a resource to drone operators. You can find specific information about UAS operations at www.faa.gov/uas. You can ask questions about drone operations at uashelp@faa.gov. You can follow us on Facebook (Facebook.com/FAA), Instagram (Instagram.com/FAA) and Twitter (@FAADroneZone). The FAA also produces webinars and other digital and printed media to assist you with safe drone operations.

Don’t forget about reaching out to your local DronePros. DronePros are volunteers who support the FAA Safety Team (FAASTeam) and play a vital role in accomplishing the FAASTeam mission. DronePros serve the drone community by sharing their time, resources, and professional experience in order to create a positive safety culture. DronePros also regularly host informational webinars that you can enroll in here: bit.ly/DroneProsWeb.

In summary, good (meaning effective!) drone communications involves three essential areas:

1. Good person-to-person (RPIC – VO) communications. Tip: Use effective communications during a UAS operation to ensure that there are no misunderstandings when it comes to risk, and/or the actions the team needs to take to reduce that risk.

2. Good communications between the GCS and the drone. Tip: Make sure the connection between your GCS, the drone, and other outside signals (GPS/Wi-Fi, etc.) is strong enough to conduct a safe operation.

3. Good communications with the FAA. Tip: Use FAA resources to keep up with the latest information on how to safely operate your drone.Good communication is critical to ensuring safe operation in the NAS ... and good communication continues to be the best way to collaborate with the FAA on safety!

Michael O’Shea works with government agencies as a resource on public unmanned aircraft operations and has more than 30 years of experience working in public safety.

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