How To Create Effective UAS Standard Operating Procedures & A Flight Operations Manual
The importance of having high quality, standardized procedures for UAS operations cannot be understated. If you are a drone pilot, having both a flight operations manual and standard operating procedure for each of your types of operations is critical to conducting safe drone flights while ensuring you complete all aspects of the operation successfully.
That may sound straight forward enough but you may ask, what is the difference between the FOM and SOP?
Difference Between Flight Operations Manual and Standard Operating Procedure
The Flight Operations Manual (FOM) is a document that outlines the processes, procedures, and training requirements for your UAS flight department. This document is established to be utilized as a guideline for all operations and operators in your company.
Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) are processes and procedures outlining how to execute a specific operation. These SOPs are a subsection of the FOM. A good example of this would be step by step instruction on how to execute a roof inspection. This would include the planning and considerations before the inspection, the execution of the actual inspection, and post flight considerations.
There are a variety of reasons that your organization should create and utilize these documents. The importance of having an FOM is to establish the standards of your flight department when executing their duties. This allows the organization to maintain efficiency, safety, and clarity. This is especially important as the organization grows or experiences turnover. New employees will be able to review the flight operations manual to answer any questions that may arise. The FOM will also ensure quality control of flight operations. This will eliminate pilots doing the same type of flights in different ways and improve standardization across the organization.
SOPs should be thought of as extensions of the FOM that get into detail on the many types of operations your organization executes. Standard operating procedures are critical documentation to ensure quality and safe data collection when it comes to UAS operations. Effective standard operating procedures will guide any remote pilot in command (RPIC) in your organization through planning/pre-flight, flight, and post flight. The process and outcome should be the same regardless of which RPIC accomplishes the flight. These SOPs will also be critical in the safety of your day-to-day operations. Each SOP will have requirements to conduct things such as site surveys, flight planning, obstacle avoidance, establishing emergency landing zones and many more. This will give each of your RPICs the guidance to have the best outcome for each deployment.
How To Structure and Organize a FOM & SOP
There are many elements critical to the structure of both your FOM and SOPs. It is important when building or evaluating these documents to make sure they are tailored to your organization and the operations you conduct. The FAA has published many resources as well to explain the elements of the FOM/SOPs.
As mentioned above, your Flight Operations Manual should be a robust document that outlines how your organization is structured and operates. Critical elements to include in this document as a drone service provider are Organization, Roles/Responsibilities, Training, Flight Operations (Pre, During and Post, Safety (Culture, Abnormal/Emergency Operations, SMS), Accident/Incident Reporting, Record Keeping, Maintenance, and Authorizations/Waiver.
Standard operating procedures will be tailored to each type of operation and will provide a detailed process of how your RPICs will execute their flight duties. The critical components to UAS flight SOPs would be pre-flight, during flight, post flight. These 3 elements will cover everything from flight planning, risk analysis, safety, aircraft/site inspections, equipment configuration, execution and post flight considerations. While this is a not a comprehensive list of what the SOPs should cover. You want to make sure your SOPs guide any RPIC in your organization from beginning to completion of an operation to ensure uniformity across your organization.
So what do you need to create or tailor these documents? This is a great question and requires you to take a look at your organization, identify how your organization is structured and the types of operations that you focus on. Utilize the resources available online such as those on the FAA’s website. Tailor your FOMs and SOPs to be specific to your company. Focus on your FOM to align with what you have identified. Use those policies and processes to help create your SOPs. Those processes will dictate how you build out your flight operations and your SOPs used to guide them.
More Benefits of Establishing FOMs and SOPs
What are the benefits of putting the time and effort into these documents? You will see these improvements in efficiency, safety, waivers/authorizations, and ability to obtain more clients or projects. When requesting airspace authorizations, you can also attach your FOM and/or SOP to display to the FAA and that specific ATC that you are a professional safety oriented remote pilot. This will also show your organization knows the flight operations, risk mitigation and safety aspects of flight in controlled airspace. This streamlines your chances of approval and the time it may take to receive them. Many clients/customers you are pursing also take training, safety, and qualifications very seriously. Providing this documentation can likely satisfy requirements to operate on their sites and complete data captures. This can be the edge when choosing who they want to work with on not only the project you are pursing but any future work.
As the drones become increasingly integrated into the National Airspace System these documents will become more important and provide greater value to your organization. Think of them as living documents, as your company changes or processes evolve so should these documents. Continually evaluate and update the information in them.
If you are interested in developing your business as a drone pilot and growing your business, you can become a pilot partner of Skye Link, as we are always looking to grow our partnerships with professional safety oriented remote pilots. Do not hesitate to reach out with questions, comments, or requests.