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Operations

This section provides a descriptive perspective of the Lab's operations. For an time-oriented perspective, please consult the procedures page.

4.1 Role training and currency

All remote pilots working on behalf of the Lab will have to hold a pilot qualification recognised by the CAA for the relevant UAS operations and will be assessed by the Lab's Accountable Manager as being knowledgeable and competent to fly the Lab’s UAS in the Lab's potential operating environments.

All pilots will be expected to maintain flying skills currency through hands-on flying with the Lab's aircraft, aircraft they have access to or appropriately configured simulators. Regular practice will include emergency procedures and flying in all operating modes offered by the aircraft.

4.2 Area of operation

The anticipated areas of operation will be determined by the specific requirements of each mission and these in turn will follow from the terms of the related teaching or research project.

It is anticipated that a broad range of locations from remote rural to urban will be used falling into airspace categories G and D.

UAS operations conducted in UK airspace will be assessed in advance using comprehensive site risk assessment forms and procedures.

4.3 Operating limitations and conditions

The Lab's operations will be primarily conducted within the limitations stipulated within UKPDRA-01 or as stipulated in the operational authorisation issued by the CAA to the Lab.

Operations may take place within the Open Category. If so, the remote pilot will ensure that the compliant aircraft and competency requirements are held to operate in the specific subcategory.

All operations will be carried out in accordance with the issued operational authorisation PDRA01 and abide by the requirements of Regulation (EU) 2019/947 as retained (and amended in UK domestic law) under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018.

All remote pilots are required to sign up to CAA Skywise portal to ensure they remain up to date with legislation, information notices and temporary airspace restriction or changes.

4.4 Methods to determine the intended tasks and feasibility

For all of the Lab's UAS operations, the designated remote pilot will assess the intended task in stages according to the Lab's procedures. Preparation is documented using the Lab's standard forms.

Flight documentation will be retained for at least one year for future reference if required.

The designated remote pilot will be responsible for determining the method of operation for the intended task, identifying resources and assessing the task’s feasibility. If he or she has any reservations he will discuss the reservations with the Lab's accountable manager before proceeding with the task.

4.5 Operating site planning and assessment

As part of the research into task feasibility, the Lab's remote pilot will use whatever tools and facilities deemed necessary and available to them such as those listed on the references page.

The task will only go ahead if the remote pilot is satisfied the necessary controls and safeguards can be put in place for a safe operation within the operational area of flight.

As part of the planning process, the remote pilot will develop a site checklist specifically tailored for the location and the task. This checklist will be completed on arrival at the site.

4.6 Communications

Contact telephone numbers for the following will be recorded on the pre-flight site evaluation form as required before departure to the site:

  • Landowner(s)
  • Observer and Crew
  • Client Contact
  • Local Police Station
  • Local Hospital
  • Local Air Traffic Control (ATC)
  • Local Air User Clubs

Where possible, contact will be made with the landowner(s) and the ATC before any physical site survey in conducted.

ATC Phone numbers can be found according to the type of the ATZ:

  • Civil > AD2 > Aerodrome Name
  • Military > IAP > AD > AD2 > Aerodrome Name > Textual Data

4.7 Pre-notification

Permission is required if a planned flight operation is to take place within the flight restriction zone or runway protection zone of a protected aerodrome. The remote pilot will contact the ATC at least twenty-four hours before the planned flight. If operating in controlled airspace the remote pilot will make the decision on whether to contact ATC and notify them of the planned flight in the interests of safety. Contact details for the tower will be recorded on the relevant site survey form.

If there is a local air user club nearby the remote pilot will endeavour to contact the club and enquire about any likely activity on the day of the proposed flight operation.

If the planned flight operation is to take place in areas where there is likely to be members of the public, the remote pilot will inform the local police. The contact and telephone number will be recorded on the site evaluation form.

If the flight operation is to take place in a highly populated area, such as a housing estate, a leaflet drop, and/or a door-to-door advisory campaign will be considered at least seven days in advance to advise members of the public of proposed flight operations.

All relevant crew members will be sent a call sheet for the planned flight operation at least twenty-four hours in advance.

Some ATCs will require a non-standard flight (NSF) approval via the NATS portal.

Applications for NSFs should be made with a minimum of 21 days' notice. Applications submitted less than 7 days in advance of the flight may not be processed.

4.8 Site permissions

The designated remote pilot will obtain permission from all relevant landowners or land occupiers where flight operations are to be conducted. Where possible, permission will be sought in writing. Where it is available in writing a copy of the permission will be carried on site. No flight operations will commence without permission, either written or verbal, from the relevant landowners or occupiers for the main take-off and landing site.

4.9 Weather

In the week leading up to any flight operation the designated remote pilot will obtain long, medium and short-range weather forecasts. Twenty-four hours before the proposed flight operations the remote pilot will determine whether the planned flight operations will go ahead.

Weather and other forecasts, such as solar activity, will be obtained using readily available resources such as those in the references section.

4.10 On-site procedures

Printed flight documentation will be used on site in case an internet connection is not available.

Before setting up on-site in accordance with the site checklist the remote pilot or a designated crew member will carry out the following observations:

  • Windspeed at surface level, using a handheld anemometer
  • Immediate weather conditions
  • Presence of uninvolved persons
  • Unexpected factors that could affect mission safety

If the remote pilot feels confident that the proposed flight operations can be safely carried out, then the operation can progress, and the remote pilot can complete the on-site arrival checklist.

The remote pilot will then complete the site checklist to familiarise him or herself with the local geography of the site. This will be completed by physically walking around the site to identify any previously unidentified hazards that will be manually added to the environment diagram in section 2.4 of the site evaluation form. Where an observer is present, the observer will accompany the remote pilot.

The remote pilot must be satisfied that all risks identified are acceptable and will sign off the site checklist before proceeding to the next stage.

4.11 Assembly and functional checks

The UAS will be assembled and checked in accordance with the relevant UAS assembly checklist.

The remote pilot will check the day prior to the flight operation that all necessary software and firmware updates have been completed on the UAS to be flown and if necessary a test flight has been conducted.

4.12 Pre-flight checks

The UAS will be prepared for flight by the remote pilot following the pre-flight checklist.

4.13 Flight Procedures

When the remote pilot is satisfied the UAS is ready for launch, they will follow the take-off protocol.

During flight, the remote pilot will conduct situational awareness updates with the observer if present. Situational awareness updates will include:

  • UAS position and responsiveness
  • UAS battery status
  • Horizon scans and airspace assessments
  • Landing site incursions
  • Alternate landing site incursions
  • Air incursions (air users / birds)
  • Potential adverse weather changes
  • Ground incursions, dangers to the remote pilot

Prior to landing, the remote pilot will follow the landing protocol.

4.14 Post-flight and between-flight checks

The UAS will be shut down, made safe and checked in accordance with the post-flight actions checklist.

4.15 Emergency Procedures

The Lab's emergency procedures are set out on the emergency procedures page.