I haven’t been grounded this much since I was a kid. Seriously, this is getting ridiculous.

Posting has been kept to a minimum these past couple of weeks because frankly it’s been difficult to get outside and get any work done. Commercial drone pilots have very specific limits on the conditions we can fly in and if things aren’t just right we can’t launch. I thought those limits would make for an interesting post so that is the topic for this week.

The bottom line is that the final go/no-go for launching and whether the drone stays in the air rests with one person, and one person only. Me. Not the client. Not the client’s boss. Not any other party who thinks they have some sort of vested interest in the completion of the stated mission. Nope…just me. That’s because as the remote pilot in command, I have final responsibility for the safe operation of the drone at all times. When things go right, that’s great. But when things go wrong, it doesn’t really matter much what actually happened. The proverbial buck stops with good ole proverbial me and the target is painted on my back.

When discussing mission parameters with new clients I make it clear that a flight can be cancelled at any time, up to and including while operations are ongoing. There are a number of things that can happen to make me make that call. Here are a few of them.

Weather
If I don’t like what I’m seeing, the drone doesn’t fly. This especially holds true in summer months. Storms pop up seemingly from out of nowhere and a beautiful day can turn ugly really quickly. It doesn’t matter that it was gorgeous while I was making my way to your location and I had the windows down the whole way there. If the weather falls out of specification, even while we’re working together, we’re going to need to reschedule the remainder of your flight.

Wind
While the drones used here at New England Drone Solutions are all built to withstand and fight some really hearty wind speeds, there are times when it’s just too much for them. Gusts can put drones into buildings or take them out of the sky completely. And, when anything happens with the drone that is not what was intended, bad things tend to happen as a result. If the wind picks up for whatever reason and your pilot decides that the flight is over, that’s it. We can try to wait it out and see if things subside or we can reschedule the flight.

While we’re on the topic of wind, here’s a fun fact: even though things may be perfectly fine for us on the ground, the drone may be experiencing excessive wind conditions at altitude. It will also tell the pilot when this is happening and the pilot would be wise to listen to what the drone is saying.

Visibility
We’ll just call this one what it is – fog. If a fog has come in, odds are about 99% certain that the flight isn’t going to happen. By regulation, a commercial drone pilot needs 3 statute miles of visibility to be able to launch. Operations are also not permitted above clouds and – fun fact number two – fog is a cloud that just happens to be hanging out with us on the ground. Put those two things together and if the area’s starting to look like a bowl of pea soup, we’re going to have to reschedule your flight. This also counts if there are clouds low in the sky. To stay legal, we have to stay 500 feet below the cloud ceiling. That’s not really an issue when the ceiling is 6800 feet. But when it’s 300, we’re not going to be able to take off.

TFRs/NOTAMs
When we first connect, your airspace is going to be checked a couple of times. The first time will be to ensure that there are no issues with controlled airspace. If there are issues, we can generally alleviate those with automated requests for clearance via a system called LAANC. For other, more complicated issues, additional effort will be required and I’ll keep you updated on how that’s going.

Your airspace will also be checked on arrival in order to ensure that no last minute TFRs or NOTAMs have popped up. Temporary flight restrictions (TFR) and notices to airmen (NOTAM) are tools that the FAA uses to restrict airspace. They can be issued for a variety of reasons and technically they can be issued at any time. It is rare for either of these occurrences to interfere with a scheduled flight, but it can happen. When it does, it is literally the federal government coming in and declaring a section of airspace as a no-fly zone so trying to argue it would be as futile as it sounds.

Literally Anything Else
My job is to fly and provide aerial services. My passion is flying and providing aerial services. I want to fly and provide aerial services. I do not like being grounded and being unable to fulfill my clients’ expectations so the last thing I want to do is terminate a flight operation. The decision to do so is never taken lightly. But, when the decision is made, the decision is also final because a remote pilot in command is responsible for more than just getting the job done. I’m responsible for the safety of my aircraft and those around it and if I need to pull the drone out of the sky because something about the current situation just doesn’t seem…right…then I will do it without hesitation.

Sometimes that means a 15 minute delay. Sometimes it means that the drones don’t see the sky for a couple of weeks. Here’s to hoping the current drought of flyable conditions is reaching its end!