A career as a Drone Pilot can be very rewarding for the right person.
It involves a lot of travel, sometimes to beautiful places; our pilots have traveled to Chile, Hawaii, Iceland, and many more just in the last year. It allows you to do something many people love doing in their own personal time; fly drones and learn a new technology that is developing at a rapid pace. It can be spontaneous; some jobs require immediate attention, such as when our pilots responded to Hurricane Harvey and had to get flights out of DC in less than 4 hours.
And although the safety of flying drones - compared to alternatives - is one of their biggest selling points in energy, construction, public safety, and other industries, one might be surprised at just how many risk factors must be assessed and managed with professionalism and wisdom when you are the operating drone pilot.
Here are a few stories from our own pilots that illustrate how they were able to effectively manage risks posed by people, equipment, and weather.
People – The Angry Landowner
Ronney and Grant on a mission in San Diego.
Individual privacy laws are of special concern whenever drones are involved. One of the tricky parts of doing drone work is properly communicating with and making accommodations for local landowners.
Most of the time, people are accommodating. But one time, I was performing a solar inspection in a rural area and a landowner was very uncomfortable with my being beside his property with my “gadget.” He was shouting and making threats, and although it was uncomfortable, I used my military training to stay calm under pressure and maintain control of the situation.
"Although it was uncomfortable, I used my military training to maintain control of the situation."
I was able to listen to his concerns and explain to him who I was and why I was there. And we reached an agreement so that we could peacefully complete the mission that day.
Even when you follow all protocol to address privacy concerns, there are still people on the other side who can create a situation. For those few minutes, you really don’t know what the other person is going to do, and it can present a dangerous situation.
-Ronney B Miller, Senior Director of Aviation Standards, Policy & Training
Equipment – Drone Damage during Largest Solar Job to Date
Matthew suiting up for a boiler inspection.
We were getting ready to do our largest solar farm to date, which was 5x larger than our previous largest job. Everything was well-planned, all boxes were checked, and we were ready to get to work. We had planned for all risk factors, including the location being right on the U.S.-Mexico border and the high temperatures that we were certain to encounter in Southern California in September.
But when we got to the hotel and checked the equipment, there was a problem we hadn’t foreseen: one of the fixed-wing drones arrived damaged as the case had fallen apart in shipment.
There we were with a couple of weeks to tackle the biggest job we’ve ever done with one drone short, due to no fault of our own.
A quick call to headquarters and we managed to get another 6-wing shipped overnight. And although we had other challenges during that mission, we were able to adjust our sails quickly and make good judgments, and we ended up completing the mission in less time than we expected.
"We ended up completing the mission in less time than we expected."
-Matthew Jungnitsch, Senior Drone Engineer
Weather - Watch Out for the Wind
Grant on a recent scout for our media arm, M2 Aerials.
When you’re responding to a natural disaster like Hurricane Harvey, you obviously go into it knowing the weather is going to pose risks. But you also have to factor in the trickiness of the airspace during disaster response.
As we were shooting for a major news channel, I hit the refresh button on my airspace. In only a few minutes we had gone from being in a safe fly zone to a No Fly Zone and I had to get out of their swiftly.
As I was maneuvering out, I could see there was a huge weather front coming in. I stopped the feed and was getting ready to take the drone down when a huge wind gust came by and took the drone a mile down and barely cleared a tree line. Thankfully, the drone was ok when I finally got to it half an hour later. My biggest takeaway from this: DJI drones are strong against the wind!
Takeaway: DJI drones are strong in the wind!
-Grant Lowenfeld, Media Pilot
As you can see, professionalism, the ability to remain calm under pressure, and a can-do attitude are necessary skills of a drone pilot. It’s important to decipher between experienced professionals and amateurs as there can be high dollar consequences if the job is not taken seriously.