Two for the price of one

So far we haven’t turned up to a job with a busload of crewmembers, but one thing is certain – there’ll usually be at least two of us – the CAA approved drone pilot and an observer.

The pilot is, of course, the glam guy (or doll), wearing expensive shades, baking barking commands out of the corner of the mouth, and has a belt full of gadgets to count satellites, measure the wind, tell north from south etc.

So who is this other person, the observer, the person with the slightly harried look and anxious eyes, the person who doesn’t get to wear the expensive shades, to fly the drone?

Ah, observers may appear to be a pale shade of the pilot, but scratch the surface and you’ll find they’re not. Indeed, without a suitably trained observer the pilot may not fly, the drone won’t get off the ground, the aerial photography won’t happen. All because the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) says so. The observer is essential to the operation, as essential as the navigational satellites up in the sky, as essential as the batteries that power the craft.

The CAA doesn’t pull its punches – it says that in the interest of public safety there must always be an observer working on the job, and that any breach of this rule is highly likely to result in withdrawal of its permission to fly commercially.

So what does the observer do? Apart from keeping an eye on battery levels and satellite numbers, the observer is the contact point for client and any other crew members such as a payload operator, camera operator, and spotters while the pilot is doing what pilots do. They also need to keep an eye out for members of the public or other aircraft entering the operational area, and they need to know exactly where the drone is at all times.

Keeps them busy. And if the pilot is suddenly incapacitated for some reason, the observer will ensure the drone lands safely and doesn’t fly into a school playground or a billionaire’s luxury super yacht.

So it’s usually always two of us. There could be more – possibly a payload operator, possibly spotters. Sometimes the client can act as observer; it all depends on the job.

It’s all about protecting the public and the client and the crew, of course. We minimize risk, we maximize safety. Two for the price of one.