Standard aviation practices are based on one key principle: people are flawed. A lot can go wrong due to human error. Faulty memory, unreliable senses, or a momentary lapse of attention can spell disaster in traditional aviation. That’s why checklists in drone operations are so important to flight crews.
From an article by Paul Baur, Consultant at Skyward.
Checklists help to reduce human error by giving pilots the same processes every single time. They help engines start correctly and rotors stay attached; checklists help us access airspace smoothly. And they’re part of the reason for traditional aviation’s good safety record.
There’s a lesson here for commercial drone operators: checklists should be a regular part of the workflow.
I work with Skyward’s Professional Services team to advise drone operators on following regulatory standards and best practices. With years of experience flying drones of all sizes, I’ve learned a few things about using checklists effectively. Here are five tips.
1. Create a variety of checklists for your drone operations
Don’t try to cram everything into one checklist. It will be too long for use on-site, and it may end up being ignored. Instead, create a system of checklists for various locations and scenarios.
For major operations at Skyward, we use the following checklist system:
Mission Planning Checklist — completed once per operation from the office. This includes sub-checklists such as a packing list.
Preflight Checklist — completed once per operation to secure the site and equipment. This is repeated if we relocate during the same operation.
Takeoff Checklist — short list completed before every flight.
Thru-flight Checklist — very light checklist completed between flights from the same site.
Postflight Checklist — completed once per site per operation. This ensures our equipment and data make it safely back to the office with us.
In addition, we have several special-use checklists for particular circumstances:
Incident Response Checklists — what to do in the event of an unexpected landing, damage, or other problem scenario.
Special Operations Checklists — for performing specific jobs or operating in unusual circumstances under a waiver.
This system helps us fly according to federal regulations and company policies. Most of the checklists take an experienced pilot as little as five minutes to complete, which helps us be safe and efficient.
Pro tip: when creating a checklist system, follow an order of operations that quickly alerts your crew to major “No-Go”s first. You’ll want to know if there’s a temporary flight restriction (TFR) or inclement weather as early as possible—hopefully before you leave the office.
2. Make sure checklists are location-specific
When taking their first stab at checklists, I’ve noticed that many customers don’t think of location. For example, a pilot may drive hours to a work site, set up, and begin to run through the preflight checklist only to discover items that have to be completed back in the office. This can cause major frustrations and delays. If not corrected, the drone crew may just ignore checklist items.
Consider where your feet are planted when creating a checklist. Again, creating a system of checklists with separate in-office and on-site lists can help. It will save you and your crew a headache.
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