New public safety drone pilots face a severe problem in their early flight years. They lack the experience and confidence to say “no” to flying.
As a UAS pilot, we can never forget FAR 91.3 that says “The pilot in command of an aircraft is directly responsible for, and is the final authority as to, the operation of that aircraft.”
Ultimately what this means is if you are being pressured to fly your public safety drone and you don’t feel you can do it safely, it is your sole responsibility not to operate the aircraft. The buck and blame will always stop with you.
Saying you can’t fly is one of the hardest choices to make. In an emergency situation, we all want to play an essential role in finding the missing person or suspect or assist in containing the wildfire. That’s why we got into public safety.
When multiple people are anxiously waiting for you to launch you will feel tremendous pressure to get in the air as fast as possible. That’s normal.
As an FAA certificated pilot, we have a duty and responsibility to more than just the team we are working with on the incident. We also have a responsibility to not get the aircraft into a situation where it may cause harm to others or damage to property.
The good news is there are checks and balances to help you know if you should be flying or not. One of those assessments is the risk assessment calculator.
As part of your pilot training, you may have reviewed The Five Hazardous Attitudes that may have seemed kind of silly at the time. However, what experience will show you is it very accurate.
Anti-authority: “Don’t tell me.”
This attitude is found in people who do not like anyone telling them what to do. In a sense, they are saying, “No one can tell me what to do.” They may be resentful of having someone tell them what to do or may regard rules, regulations, and procedures as silly or unnecessary. However, it is always your prerogative to question authority if you feel it is in error.
Impulsivity: “Do it quickly.”
This is the attitude of people who frequently feel the need to do something, anything, immediately. They do not stop to think about what they are about to do, they do not select the best alternative, and they do the first thing that comes to mind.
Invulnerability: “It won’t happen to me.”
Many people falsely believe that accidents happen to others, but never to them. They know accidents can happen, and they know that anyone can be affected. However, they never really feel or believe that they will be personally involved. Pilots who think this way are more likely to take chances and increase risk.
Macho: “I can do it.”
Pilots who are always trying to prove that they are better than anyone else think, “I can do it—I’ll show them.” Pilots with this type of attitude will try to prove themselves by taking risks in order to impress others. While this pattern is thought to be a male characteristic, women are equally susceptible.
Resignation: “What’s the use?”
Pilots who think, “What’s the use?” do not see themselves as being able to make a great deal of difference in what happens to them. When things go well, the pilot is apt to think that it is good luck. When things go badly, the pilot may feel that someone is out to get them or attribute it to bad luck. The pilot will leave the action to others, for better or worse. Sometimes, such pilots will even go along with unreasonable requests just to be a “nice guy.”
As the Pilot-In-Command (PIC) it is your responsibility to know when it is safe for you to fly. Every pilot is different and has different go or no-go decision points. Know what your skill boundaries are.
From my UAS emergency flights, I know that you can become not as sharp at the end of an extended mission than you were at the start. You have to plan for this fatigue in advance before you fly too far into a dangerous situation.
The process of finishing a long search, returning to your landing zone, and landing is typically the point at which your requirements and capabilities can be at odds with one another.
Ask Yourself if You Are Really “Good to Go”
As I usually say, you should always try to figure out why you should fly and not why you should not fly.
If you are feeling pressured or have that nagging voice that says it is not safe to fly, take a few minutes and then review the situation again. You can also step away for a moment and get 60 seconds to yourself to make sure you are making the right choice. If you have a fellow public safety UAS pilot you trust, give them a call and ask them for their opinion of the situation.
Maybe you will reach the same conclusion as I have at times, and say it is not safe to fly right now, but you will monitor the situation and revaluate.
If you’ve had an experience where you should have said no to flying but didn’t, let me know using the form below.