Emergency Procedures for Commercial Drone Pilots

emergency procedures

What Would You Do in an Emergency?

The drone industry has a strong safety-first culture that plays a vital role in keeping aircraft and equipment, pilots and uninvolved people & property free from harm, whilst improving levels of safety across the industry. Having pre-planned emergency procedures is mandatory for all commercial pilots and is self-documented in their PfCO Operations Manual. However, it’s also extremely important for hobbyists to have a general understanding and knowledge of emergency procedures to improve safety for all drone pilots and uninvolved persons. This way, all drone pilots will possess a good level of knowledge to deal with an in-flight emergency, should one ever occur.

Dealing with an Emergency

In an emergency you don’t want to be thinking “what shall I do”? To avoid this, it’s important to develop and learn your own emergency procedures, so that when time is critical you’ll have a course of well thought-out actions at the ready.

Below are two examples of emergency procedures for common issues that may occur during flying. It’s important to note these may vary from person to person and between different aircraft, however they are a great example of what you would include in your operations manual to help you handle the situation appropriately and safely.

The first emergency procedure “Airspace Incursion” is a position we never want to be in, as it means another aircraft has come into our flying area and there is a risk of our drone hitting the other aircraft. This shouldn’t happen if you’ve planned your flight properly, however sometimes a manned aircraft may be in the wrong place or there may have been no way of knowing the aircraft was going to be there. For example, a helicopter or other aircraft must undertake an emergency landing.

airspace incursion

The second emergency procedure “Pilot Incapacitation” covers the procedures to be taken in the event the pilot feels physically unable to continue with the flight on medical grounds. Again, it’s a situation that we hope never happens, but if it does it’s crucial to be calm and ready with your pre-planned procedure.

pilot incapacitation

Other emergency procedures that you should always consider, but are not limited to:
•  Flyaway – what to do if the aircraft starts to fly away?
•  Fire in the air or on the ground – when will you fight the fire?
•  GPS Loss – how will you regain control?
•  Failsafe – The aircraft must have a failsafe mechanism. How is this activated?

Reporting if Something Goes Wrong

So, you’ve been unfortunate enough to experience an in-flight emergency and you’ve handled it with the effective use of your prepared procedure(s). The next step is to report it to the relevant body.

You must report an Accident or serious Incident to the AAIB (Air Accidents Investigation Board) according to CAP 722; “Any person involved (as defined under Regulation (EU) No. 996/2010) who has knowledge of the occurrence of an accident or serious incident in UK airspace must report it to the AAIB. Such persons include (but are not limited to) the owner, operator and pilot of a UAS.”

Other less serious “reportable occurrences” must be filed under the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) system, known as ECCAIRS. It’s important to note that this scheme is not used as a “blaming tool” and it is not the CAA’s intention to start legal proceedings against those who report unintended breaches of law, except in cases of gross negligence. The scheme is in place so that lessons can be learnt, and safety improved across the industry.

Some commercial organisations operating aircraft will run their own reporting scheme which then feeds into the official EASA scheme. This allows the capture of more data for the company than the EASA system on its own would generate. This is usually called an Air Safety Report (ASR) system and run in-house, with occurrences that require it then being reported using the actual EASA system.

It’s important to report any incident or accident to the correct regulator; not only due to the fact it may be a legal requirement, but just as importantly it contributes to further improving industry safety in the future.

To report an accident or serious incident to the AAIB, please call their 24-hour reporting line on 01252 512299. You can report an occurrence to EASA via their online system at www.aviationreporting.eu.

In summary, the key to dealing with any drone emergency is preparation. This rule of thumb applies to all drone pilots, including hobbyists and commercial operators. By taking any (if not all) of the aforementioned steps to better prepare yourself, you’re helping to create a safer aerial environment across the UK. Always remember, safety is paramount!

If you’d like to discuss Emergency Procedures, or to learn more about gaining your drone pilot’s CAA Permission for Commercial Operations, now’s the time to speak with our expert training team. Don’t hesitate to get in touch with us today!


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