Under the above ORS4 the Emergency Services, holding a valid PfCO, have been granted a special exemption that can only implemented short term reactive situations aimed at preventing the immediate risk to human life, or during a major incident. Under the provisions of this exemption, the distance the drone can be operated from the drone pilot can be extended beyond 500 metres when certain protocols have been followed and are authorised.
The CAA requirements are that:
- The distance from the remote pilot station does not exceed the maximum control range of the aircraft, as stated in the operating manual of the emergency service under whose authority the person in charge is operating the aircraft;
- The drone is not flown beyond a distance of 1000 metres from the remote pilot station without the explicit approval of the On-Scene Incident Commander;
- The drone is not flown beyond a distance of 2000 metres from the remote pilot without the explicit approval of the Tactical Commander assigned to the incident.
Each force or service will have to incorporate precise procedures and protocols in their Operations Manual for these circumstances. As it stands today, most forces and services are working in isolation trying to develop local processes so there is no standard wording available or pronouncement on acceptability from the CAA.
The challenge for all emergency service operators is to provide sufficient training and knowledge to all their competent pilots so that they can take the appropriate action and decision in these special circumstances. Most drones operated today will have a command and control range in the order of 3,000 metres in radio line sight. Seeing the video image and seeing what the drone is actually doing will be a problem, and if the terrain is not flat there is a strong likelihood that the drone will not make it back even with an automatic ‘Return to Home’.
Losing the drone isn’t that much of an issue if it contributes to saving human life but with emergency services financial resources stretched as they are there won’t be too many On Scene Incident Commanders or Tactical Commanders who will readily authorise an extended flight profile when the drone may not be seen again! This does suggest that the emergency services do need to invest in more capable longer distance drones and situational awareness systems rather than the standard commercial products currently used.