If you’re running a safe commercial drone operation, you know that reliability is everything. It’s not just collecting the data, but very often your drone represents a larger entity– your business, or maybe even more serious, someone else’s business. Optimizing your fleet for reliability means creating a culture of safety around your people, process and equipment. 

Here’s a great list of starting points to make sure your drones, transmitters, and batteries are all reliable for the work you’re doing. 

1) Be kind to your stuff. 

This might seem like common sense, but you’d be surprised how often we see folks throwing their drone equipment about. Yes, they’re tools, but they’re extremely sensitive tools. For example, the wire connecting the radio to the antenna on many transmitters is made of fragile small gauge wire and is a coaxial cable. This means that it’s a wire wrapped by foil. If you damage the wire of the wrapping, you’re going to severely hurt the range of the transmitter. 

Likewise, drones rely on quite a bit of fragile equipment to be able to fly safely. Their circuit boards, compasses, and onboard computers are delicate equipment that don’t like static, shock, or vibration. For example, a chipped, broken or misbalanced propeller can cause vibrations that over time could cause damage to the aircraft’s computer or other critical components, or at the very least contribute to erroneous readings. 

We recommend a good Pelican Case or a GoPro case to store and transport your stuff in so it doesn’t get too jostled. 

2) Batteries are disposable. 

A lot of drone pilots have trouble with this notion. Think of the batteries in your fleet like one big gas tank. When it starts to run on empty, you don’t want to embark on a giant road trip. Passing that “Next Gas Station 120 Miles” sign would not be advisable. Make sure you’re monitoring your batteries for performance and the number of cycles you’ve put on them. If you’re trying to stretch the effective and reliable life of your $100 battery but end up crashing your $2000 drone into your work truck and causing $1000 in damage, you’ve made a costly mistake. When a battery starts to show signs of degradation, it’s time to get a new one. 

Likewise, when you first get a new battery, it’s wise not to trust immediately. Give it a few flights at low altitudes to normalize from sitting on the shelf for a while and to make sure there are no manufacturing defects. Most batteries are great out of the package, but when that battery is responsible for keeping thousands of dollars safely in the air, it’s worth it to give it a couple of low-stress test flights to make sure it’s going to hold up to it’s end of the bargain. 

3) Data is reliability 

Unfortunately in the drone industry we don’t have a lot of publicly available MTBF ratings. These ratings, which stand for Mean Time Between Failure, help vendors know when to start replacing equipment. However, keeping your own records will help you make informed decisions on when it might be time to replace something. For example, many of our enterprise customers like to replace propellers at regular intervals like 50 hours or 100 hours depending on the climate and usage they get. It’s not possible to do this without a reliable drone operations management platform to help you monitor flight time and alert you that it’s time to change the propellers, it’s easy for this stuff to fall by the wayside, particularly as your team and fleet grow larger and larger. 

Reliability is not an accident. It’s not even a feature. It’s a process that you create to maximize the availability of your fleet and mitigate the risk of using equipment that is designed by imperfect humans and made from fallible chemical and electronic processes. Understanding that failures are inevitable and working to mitigate them in a repeatable and approachable process is the best way to run your drone program. 

As always, if you’re looking for a platform to manage all of your drone operations and help manage this risk, Kittyhawk is here to help. Click here to learn more. 

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