Operational safety cases for drones, Part 4 – Platform

Having looked at the human component, the 4th article of the series will look at the next safety component, the technological component at the heart of your operation, the drone itself.

Knowing your Platform

The first principle to understand is that you will need to know have a comprehensive knowledge of your platform. The CAA expect you to have a much deeper understanding of its functionality – its emergency modes and flying capabilities – than you would as a standard PfCO holder. In doing this you will need to possess more information about the system than that which can be simply be downloaded from the manufacturer’s website. They will expect you to have collected knowledge of the performance characteristics of the system through trial and error; in actual operation and be able to demonstrate that fully in any evidence you submit as part of the OSC application. Share operational information with your peers and learn from their observations.

If you don’t currently have an Operation Manual Volume 2 – Systems, you will need to start populating one, flying as often as you can and, where appropriate, documenting its performance as part of the OSC application.

Commoditised and Bespoke Platforms

From a safety perspective, your drone will fall under 2 configurations, commoditised and bespoke. It is the commoditised version, namely ‘off the shelf’ platforms like the DJI Phantom and Inspire series, which have revolutionised the industry by making market entry easier and more affordable. Consequently, the vast majority of PfCO holders will operate these systems in day to day operations in the UK. Commoditised drone products are characterised by the fact that they do not easily lend themselves to post purchase modification without dramatically affecting the integrity of the system and, inevitably, its warranty. It is, therefore, more difficult to introduce other safety systems such as ballistic parachute recovery systems that are suitable for integration.

For bespoke systems – those that have been typically built by the operator or an appointed drone manufacturer – there is much more scope for modification. It is with bespoke systems that you are more able to introduce additional safety features which build on the redundancy principle. This also means modification of the system by the replacement of certain components if there is a better (and safer) alternative on the market. More safety features help to build a more coherent safety argument and consequently will give you a better chance of achieving a better congested area exemption.

Single Points of Failure (SPOF)

An important principle to focus on when building an OSC is the identification of Single Points Of Failure (SPOF). These are single components within the platform which, when suffering failure, will (or may) bring about a catastrophic failure of the whole system. Some examples of these are the number of engines, battery configuration or numbers of Inertial Measurement Units (IMU’s) within the systems but you will need to outline where these exist on your platform and introduce mitigation to reduce the risk. Again the only way to do this is to immerse yourself in your platform and understand where its weaknesses lie.

It is often said that a tradesman is only as good as the tools they work with and that is very true of drone operators. You should immerse yourself in its capabilities, understand fully how it is built and operates, what its emergency modes are and, importantly, what its limitations are. All of this should go into your Operations Manual Volume 2 so that the CAA can see that you understand the system fully.

So, the question you must ask yourself is, how well do you really know your drone platform?

ClearSky Consulting have successfully advised numerous clients in OSC generation in the UK. If you would like to explore what they have to offer in this respect then email: [email protected]