Drone Safety: Be Aware in the Air!

By Alexis Eades

National Drone Safety Awareness Week

National Drone Safety Week

Drones. Some people hear that word and get excited, thinking of all the possibilities they offer. From photography to Amazon deliveries, to military usages, to scanning a construction project, they do offer a lot of opportunities.

Still, drones can sometimes be a problem if they get in the hands of someone unqualified to operate one. We’ve all heard the horror stories of neighbors spying on neighbors and accidentally crashing the drone through the window…

I found out that the FAA is very aware of the problems that occur when amateurs start using drones with no regard for safety. They’ve wisely created “Drone Safety Week” to spread information about registering your drone, getting/renewing your license, and about safety and privacy and laws. It’s obvious they are increasingly becoming an important part of our society, so it’s important for this information to be getting out there. Everyone using drones needs to be aware of how to be safe, appropriate, and legal.

Safety First!

I know that drones have become a useful tool in engineering, and that we use them here at Maser Consulting. In order to find out more about Maser’s use of drones, I went to an expert: Pat VanHaverbeke, PLS!

UAS Program Director Rob Dannenberg going over the pre-flight checklist with his team, doing everything possible to keep our drones flying as safely as possible on every flight.

Maser Consulting uses drones for a wide array of projects. Pat VanHaverbeke says we use them for “large scale topographic surveys, thermal inspections of substations, visual inspections of critical infrastructure, post hurricane emergency response and even to find unexploded ordinance on old military artillery training grounds!” Whoa, pretty cool!

Further, he explained, “There are a number of reasons we use these unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, for this work but probably the biggest two are safety and efficiency. The safety side is obvious. We’re able to use drones to carry our various sensors into locations that would otherwise be dangerous to access, such as the tops of dams, the undersides of large bridges and in fields where there could be unexploded ordinance close to the surface of the ground. During our post-hurricane disaster responses, we use them to scout ahead of utility crews so that they can know and see what they are heading into, make better decisions and get utilities back online faster.”

So, how is this technology more efficient? “We are using UAV-mounted LiDAR sensors to perform topographic surveys over large areas in a fraction of the time it would take using conventional methods. We can even see through tree canopy and topo large tracts of woods in the middle of summer! This saves our clients a lot of money, accelerates the timeline for their projects and reduces the risk to our field crews.”

Cutting Edge Technology

I asked him about how using drones has changed his work as a geographic discipline leader for survey projects here at Maser. He was very enthusiastic about how much they have improved his work. “Maser has been at the forefront of developing and applying uses for this technology for land surveying and emergency response applications and that name recognition has brought many interesting projects to our doorstep. Our team of experts has found ways to merge the data we collect with the data collected by our other business segments in order to provide fully integrated datasets to our clients. For example, last December we flew an extremely busy section of highway in Orlando with our LiDAR payload. We merged that data with data collected by our mobile LiDAR team and our conventional survey crews to create a design-quality surface for our client in record time. Not only did we exceed our client’s expectations, but we did it in a way that kept our survey team safely out of the road, away from traffic and without any lane closures. It really was a win-win for everyone involved.”

He noted again the particular importance of safety, “Safety is of critical concern in all aspects of Maser’s business but especially so with UAVs. We strive to ensure that anytime we put a UAV in the air that it’s been inspected for air worthiness and that the flight crew operating it has been fully-trained in its use. We do this because the safety of our teams, manned aircraft, and the public at large is far more important than any data we are collecting.”

Remote Pilot Certificate

He also explained to me a little bit about the reason using drones has become so common lately. He said that in the past, the FAA required the same pilots license required to fly manned aircraft to fly a UAV, but “that all changed in 2016 with the implementation of 14 CFR 107, which made it much easier to get a certificate to fly a UAV commercially.” That’s why drone usage has increased so much and why he says, “We are rapidly approaching a time when the use of this technology will be considered an industry standard.” Wow, if that’s the case, it’s no wonder the FAA is hosting Drone Safety Week right now!

Drones have made engineering much safer and cost effective and have made our work more precise. When used correctly, drones open up a world of opportunity for engineers and other professionals, and it’s clear that when used safely, legally, and responsibly, they can improve our lives. That’s why Drone Safety Week is something we are so supportive of.

If you’re interested in drones or even operate them, take a look at the FAA’s website and keep yourself in-the-know on all things drone safety!

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