What is a Drone Preflight Checklist?
A drone preflight checklist is a document used to check all the necessary requirements before flying a drone. This document is essential in ensuring that every government requirement is met and all the preflight conditions are ideal.
Most countries have strict drone flight requirements that need to be followed. In fact, in the United States of America and Europe, they consider all drones to be unmanned aircraft. Making all drones subject to aircraft and aviation laws and regulations.
When caught operating a drone illegally, an offender might be charged with civil and criminal charges. Legal sanctions might include large fines (up to $20,000 in the U.S.), revocation of pilot license, and years of imprisonment.
This article covers the following topics:
Legal Requirements in Drone Preflight Checklists
Though the legal requirements for drone flight may vary from country to country, it is good to have a reference.
There are 4 main legal requirements that need to be addressed: drone registration, pilot certification, airspace restrictions, and operational limitations. The information mentioned below is referenced from the FAA Drone Preflight Checklist.
Under the FAA Drone Preflight Checklist, the first legal requirement for drone operation is to have a drone certification registration.
Registering a drone is quite easy since the requirements needed are:
- Owner’s name, address, contact information, and credit or debit card
- Drone brand and model
- Remote ID serial number of the drone
Once the registration process is complete, the applicant will receive a registration certificate. Keep in mind that this drone certificate needs to be always on hand when operating a drone.
Remote Pilot Certification
Since the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) recognizes that all drones are aircraft, all the operators are required to have a remote pilot certificate. This means that all operators have to know all the regulations, requirements, and safety procedures for drone operation.
So, to obtain a remote pilot certificate, an aspiring drone pilot must pass the “Unmanned Aircraft General – Small (UAG)” test. This is an initial aeronautical exam that contains a wide range of topics like unmanned aircraft regulations, airspace classifications, weather effects, airport operations, and emergency procedures.
Another legal requirement for drone operation is airspace restrictions. Airspace restrictions mean that there are areas where drone flight is restricted or needs special permits to operate.
To paint a clear picture about airspace restrictions, let us consider the FAA Rules of the Sky. In the FAA rulebook, there are two types of airspace: controlled and uncontrolled. Uncontrolled airspace is where drones can freely fly 400 feet above ground level. Controlled airspace is restricted areas where operators need to acquire special permissions before flying their drones.
One of the commonly restricted airspaces is airports. This is because drones can cause safety hazards to manned aircraft like airplanes and helicopters. For example, imagine the damage to life and properties that can happen when a drone crashes into an airplane’s turbine. And due to the limited view of the cockpits, the pilots of these aircraft won’t be able to dodge flying drones
Last on the legal requirements are the operational limitations of drones. Operational requirements are rules regarding drone build and their specific operations.
For example, under the FAA rules, all unmanned drones should be less than 55 pounds or 25 kilograms. This also applies if drones will be carrying a load like extra cameras or payloads. The total weight should be less than the set limit.
Another operational limitation is that all remote pilots must only operate their drones in their visual line of sight without aids like binoculars or telescopes. This rule also applies to flying a drone in enclosed spaces and buildings.
The FAA rules also prohibit operating a drone above a person unrelated to the operator. To prevent violation of this rule, it is best to prevent drone use in crowded areas. This rule aims to prevent accidents like lacerations or concussions.
Routine Checkups in a Drone Preflight Checklist
Next on the drone preflight checklist are routine checkups of the drone and the surroundings. This will ensure that the drone is in top condition and that the weather is ideal for drone flight.
Weather largely impacts the operation of a drone. So it is not advisable to operate a drone in bad weather conditions since it can cause damages or even total loss of an unmanned aircraft system.
For example, thunderstorms can cause communication problems between the remote pilot and the drone. It can also cause sudden wind shifts that can affect the flight performances of drones.
Below is a summary of weather hazards you should avoid and their effects on drones. The data below is from the National Center for Atmospheric Research.
- Fogs, clouds, and precipitations can cause airframe load, short-circuiting of electronics, and lowers the visual line of sight.
- Ice forming on the drone can cause complete loss of unmanned aircraft and performance losses.
- Lightning can cause loss of communication due to the created radio interference.
- Wind shifts and shears can cause loss of control, prevent returning home, and flight failure.
- Moderate to greater turbulence can cause reduced flight duration and total loss of control.
Last on the drone preflight checklist is of course inspecting the drone. Below is a routine checkup list that will ensure that your drone is in good condition for flight. This list is referenced from FAA Advisory Circular 107.
- Visual inspection of the drone components.
- Check the integrity of the airframe structure and the undercarriage.
- Check all flight control surfaces and linkages.
- Ensure that all registration markings are on the drone.
- Test the functionality of the moveable control surfaces.
- Test the functionality of the servo motors.
- Test the functionality of the propulsion system.
- Check the battery levels of the drone and the control system.
- Test the functionality of the avionics.
- Calibrate the drone compass.
- Test the functionality of the control transceivers.
- Check the landing and takeoff systems.
- Test the communication between drone and control system.
- Check if any attached equipment like a claw or camera is securely attached.
- Place the drone on the takeoff ground and test the propellers if there are any imbalances or irregularities.
How Lumiform Can Ensure a Safe and Legal Drone Flight
Manually checking all the requirements on a government or an aviation department website can be tedious and risky, especially if the place of your drone operations has strict requirements. Missing one or two legal requirements can be costly. And a missed drone checkup might cause damage to lives and properties.
So, why not make that shift into using a digital drone pre-flight checklist? Here’s how Lumiform’ digital preflight checklist and app can help you ensure a safe and legal drone flight:
- Swiftly keep track of all the drone preflight legal requirements.
- Provides a complete checkup list for a drone preflight and notifies you if you’ve missed an item.
- Easily update drone preflight checklists with Lumiform’s flexible form builder whenever drone regulations are updated
- Create your own digital drone flight logbook with your completed checklists to prove that you are in compliance with all regulations.
- Easily add required documentation such as images of operating waivers, commercial drone licenses and airspace permits.
- Schedule preventive drone maintenance inspections and get push notification reminders.
- Identify repeating drone faults thanks to the analytics dashboard, so you can fix them immediately to minimize downtime.
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