Drone Program Best Practices—Training

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Posted on March 25

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Drone Program Best Practices—Training

NOTE: This is the third in a series of blogs about best practices for drone programs

Kicking off a drone inspection program can be intimidating to the uninitiated. After all, you’re essentially starting a small Air Force. The FAA adds another regulatory agency you’ll have to comply with. Drones can be expensive, and the new set of challenges can feel overwhelming.

However, the benefits of drone inspection outweigh the headaches. When you start your own program, your level of control is total. You can micromanage procedures to fit the exact needs of your site (or sites), making it a very effective use of resources. And, to address the concerns of the prior paragraph, we have decided to create a few blogs about best practices to help you get started. 

This entry concerns training. We will discuss a few general ideas around training and then provide a few lists of topics. They are not comprehensive by any means; they are the minimum of what a solid training program should cover.

 

Notes on General Training

First, everyone on a drone team should understand everyone else’s job. While everyone may not be able to fly a drone or operate a particular sensor, they should be familiar enough to help out when needed. Recall how a sensor operator should be a secondary visual observer, and how the primary visual observer should be able to pilot a drone. This redundancy makes the team more efficient, ensuring no one is impeding the process through ignorance. It also allows for team members to pick up the slack in the event someone is unavailable for any reason.

Secondly, it is important that everyone on the team go through the general training and as many people as possible take the flight training. This supports the idea of redundancy, but also provides a baseline level of information. In our entry on SOPs we discussed how critical it is that everyone on every team speak the same “language.” This is how that common language is taught: terms, SOPs, etc., are all covered in training. It’s not hard to conceive of two separate shorthands evolving at different operations. This should be avoided at all costs, as in the heat of the moment (or even the cool and calm of writing a report) it is crucial for communication that this common language is spoken.

Finally, it is important to ensure the training is rigorous. Now, rigor is subjective and affected by each team member’s prior training. A rigorous self-defence class for James Bond would be different than one for James Halpert from The Office. So, a good rule of thumb is that the program should be thorough enough to take someone with no knowledge of drone inspection or maintenance and move them all the way to proficient, ready to take up tasks in the field. This may be tedious for more experienced personnel, but there are always new things to learn.

 

Notes on Recurrent Training

As important as the initial training is, so too is recurrent training. We get it—we’re not blowing your mind here; indeed, pretty much every professional role has a retraining component. However, the newness of robotic inspections (as compared to human eyes, anyway) means there are real opportunities to enrich your operation through refreshers.

Recurrent training should be an annual affair.  In terms of curriculum, this should be a refresher for everything covered in the initial training. It needn’t go as deep, but it should skim the surface. Furthermore (and as a part of the refresh), new SOPs should be discussed in depth (do we need to explain why SOPs are important again?). For pilots, the Part 107 Drone Pilot Certification expires after two years, but it’s best to not ignore new guidelines and materials for so long. 

Finally, the training should have as many drone teams as possible together at once. If you can schedule every single drone team member in your entire company to do the recurrent training at the same time, you have an ideal situation. While this may be a hassle, it’s definitely worth it to try.

First of all, it gets everyone current at once, which is nice. But more importantly, this training is a singular chance to share ideas, lessons learned and best practices developed in the field (and a rare chance for orthomosaic jokes to get big laughs). This is the enhancement we talked about above. There is no replacement for field experience. By bringing everyone together, the sharing of that experience has the most chance to add value to the program. It also minimizes the chances of anyone missing a key piece of information because it is revealed AFTER they complete training.

 

General Training Topics

Everyone involved with drone teams should complete general training.

  • Operation of the drone platforms they will use
  • Maintenance and simple repairs
  • Battery charging and maintenance
  • Crew resource management
  • Standard communication
  • Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for data collection
  • Data management from collection to organization to inspection to report
  • Rules for flying commercial drones
  • When/how waivers can be obtained for these rules
  • Flight risk assessments
  • Meteorological condition, reports, and forecasts
  • Filing FAA Notices to Airmen (NOTAMs) when needed
  • Emergency Procedures

 

Flight Training

As many team members should be involved in flight training as possible. 

  • System familiarization
  • Normal takeoffs and landings
  • Coordinated flight
  • Special functions/flight modes
  • Emergency procedures
  • Manual flight and landings
  • Material covered in part 107 knowledge test, which is FAA test for drone pilots
  • 107 covers broader aviation topics
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