Drones / UAVs / RPAS
The official terms are Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) , but most just refer to them as drones. What are their legitimate uses and can they be safely operated in the same airspace we operate helicopters ?
In the last few years there has been a rapid acceleration in the amount of drones operated by both professional operators and laymen. Worldwide, aviation authorities are hurriedly trying to write or rewrite their rules regarding drone operations so as to ensure safety of all aviation operations.
These rules vary slightly from country to country, however unless specifically authorised otherwise, drone operators have to operate within line-of-sight, below 400 ft agl, at a safe distance from public (>30m), not over a populous area, not near an airport or approach paths to an airport.
In general, most licenced operators abide by these rules and there is no problem. Reported near misses are generally caused by members of the public, flying their drones for fun, using FPV (first person view) i.e. not within sight.
Why should helicopter operators care about drones ?
Because helicopters often operate below 400 ft when taking off and landing, not at an airport, there is a higher risk of collision with a drone. Also, a small drone contacting a wing of an airplane is less likely to have catastrophic results than in the case of collision with a tail rotor or even main rotor. Helicopters often also operate near fires, or near accidents or disaster areas where they may encounter some rogue drone operators trying to get airborne photos or video.
Drones can however be operated safely and can be useful in accomplishing tasks traditionally accomplished using helicopters (aerial filming and photography, powerline inspections, etc). If helicopter operators establish their own drone services, they can still keep business that may otherwise go elsewhere.
Drones that are available and their uses
There is a whole range of drones with prices ranging from $1 000 to over $20 000 that could be considered depending on the required use. DJI is the company with the most widely used drones and have useful commercial products ranging from the Phantom 4 Pro (with a 4k video / 20 megapixel / 1 inch sensor camera and obstacle sensing in 5 directions), to the new Inspire 2, to the Matrice 600 Pro which can be fitted with a variety of cameras attached to a Ronin Gimbal. These are suitable for photography, filming, mapping, asset inspections and powerline inspections (when fitted with a ultrazoom camera).
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