Drone Flight Safety - How to Manage FATIGUE (AND AVOID CRASHES)!

Drone Flight Safety - How to Manage FATIGUE (AND AVOID CRASHES)!

October 02, 2019

Hey everybody and welcome to the blog!

In today's blog post, we're going to take a look at a well known phenomena amongst the manned aviation community. It gets quite a lot of focus during pilot training at all levels, from private pilots licenses, all the way up to ATPL (Airline Transport Pilots License) holders.

Lots of people might think that this wouldn't affect drone operators (maybe that's why it's not included in most PfCO training courses) but having operated in the remote aerial filming industry since before drones even existed, this is something that I have experienced personally and have definitely witnessed in other people who have been working alongside me.

This issue is the one of fatigue and it's important that we understand what it is, what exacerbates it and ultimately how to recover from its insidious onset.

Read time approximately 3 minutes

As you may have seen from previous videos on our channel, one of the areas which I am most passionate about when it comes to aviation isn't just teaching and training in general; its the subject of human factors and how our bodies react psychologically and physiologically to the demands placed on us before during and after flight.

I find it fascinating that there is a direct read-across from most of the human factors considerations that we utilise in manned aviation, to the drone industry. These are fairly all-encompassing and we've only touched on a couple of them so far however, due to the lack of awareness of the impact of human factors within the drone industry (and in particular a lack of experience and awareness amongst the CAA NQEs who are responsible for training drone operators) I'll be making a point of bringing out more and more human factors training material over the coming months. 

The more of this we can learn together and the more experiences we can share, the safer will be as drone operators moving forward.

When we think about fatigue it's very important to realise that fatigue and tiredness are very different beasts. However, their effects seem almost identical. When lots of people say that they feel tired, they are actually more likely to be fatigued, but without knowing what fatigue is, it onset mechanisms and what causes it it's very difficult to disassociate the two.

It's often the case that because the symptoms of fatigue and tiredness are so similar, fatigue isn't the first thing that jumps to the forefront of people's minds.

They immediately assume that they are tired rather than fatigued.

So, what is the difference?

Let's start with tiredness. Tiredness occurs when we don't have enough, or enough high quality sleep. Without getting too technical, this usually occurs when we have interrupted sleep patterns and our brains don't get an adequate amount of time to spend in a certain brainwave pattern which allows us to recover and 'recharge', before we force them to begin acting again. The way to recover from tiredness is to get some rest and ultimately get the high quality sleep that we need to allow our brain and body to recover/recharge.

This is where the differences between tiredness and fatigue really become evident though. Fatigue is primarily caused by forcing our bodies and minds to switch between what we refer to in the human factors world as 'levels of autonomy'. That is to say that there are three basic levels of autonomy within the human system, low medium and high.

Looking at some high-level examples of these different levels, a low level of autonomy would be sat watching the television. A medium level of autonomy would be sat doing your day-to-day work. And a high level of autonomy would be something that you find quite 'stressful' or 'challenging' say for example the first time you flew your brand-new, expensive drone!

The human system is very good at spending a high proportion of its time at a fixed level of autonomy but it is not good at switching between the different levels. It's this changing in levels of autonomy which induces fatigue.

You can see this in action, when, for example, you go from your normal work (a medium level of autonomy) and take a two-week holiday say at Christmas. Going from a medium to a low level of autonomy i.e. working to relaxing for a couple of weeks seems quite tiring however, you're not doing any more physical exertion and you're probably getting more/better sleep than you would otherwise have been. This change in autonomy levels makes you fatigued but, as we've talked about already, the symptoms are the same as tiredness and therefore we assume we are tired and not suffering from fatigue.

This is exactly the situation we place ourselves in when we are conducting drone operations. We force our 'human system' to switch between different levels of autonomy. Often in quick succession and often lots of times throughout a typical 'drone working day'. When we are on the ground waiting to fly we will be at a medium level of autonomy dealing with the client, risk assessments, making sure we've got everything that we need. Then we jump into the air, flying our drone and we immediately jump up to a high level of autonomy.

As we've already said changing levels of autonomy induces fatigue and THIS is why it's so important that we are aware of this mechanism.

We could potentially become very fatigued throughout a full flying day and in a place where we may not be safe to drive home safely.

This is why when we are conducting full days of drone operations, our pilots and flight crews will, wherever possible, pre position the night before and stay in a hotel, or stay over close to location upon completion of a days flying.

Fatigue management is really important from a health and safety perspective and is something that all accountable managers should be vehemently aware of, especially if we are asking employees to conduct work on our behalf.

Far better to look after ourselves and others around us, protect ourselves from fatigue, its insidious nature and potentially devastating effects, than to have to deal with the potential fallout from a fatigue-induced accident; whilst flying or otherwise.

If there are any more questions that you can think of, which you think we should add to the sheet, then please drop them into the comments below and we'll look to get them added ASAP! :)

As always, make sure you sign up to the newsletter at the bottom of the page so that we can keep you up-to-date with all of the latest offers, announcements and news as and when it's drops.

Fly safe and blue skies



Leave a comment

Comments will be approved before showing up.

Also in Mr MPW Blog - Latest News, Articles and Updates from the Drone & Aviation World

Is the CAA Operating Safety Case ( OSC ) the best CAA Drone Qualification you can get?
Is the CAA Operating Safety Case ( OSC ) the best CAA Drone Qualification you can get?

March 04, 2020

The CAA Operating Safety Case (or OSC as it has become known) system has been around pretty much since the CAA first started issuing permissions for people to fly their drones commercially in the UK but it's always been something of a mystery to many... Our aim is to demystify the OSC p

Read More

Can you REALLY earn £65k as a Professional Drone Pilot?
Can you REALLY earn £65k as a Professional Drone Pilot?

March 03, 2020 1 Comment

it's also important that we put the £65k salary into perspective too... To some, it's an astronomical amount of money. To others, its 'normal' and to some it may even be pocket-change... Either way, to earn £65,000 per year means that you've got to earn £178.08p EVERY SINGLE DAY. Which, if the hype is to be believed, shouldn't be too hard with a drone, right?

Read More

How to start a Drone Training Company in the UK - Becoming a CAA RAE
How to start a Drone Training Company in the UK - Becoming a CAA RAE

March 02, 2020

the Drone Training Sector in the UK has generated in the region of £20 Million in the last 5 years for the CAA Drone Schools which have managed to leverage the adoption of drone tech and have serviced the requirements of the rapidly expanding drone market.

Read More