Operational safety case helps drone carry out longer surveys

Extended Range Flights Unlock New Horizons in Coastal Surveying

22 August 2023

The integration of drone technology has revolutionised the survey industry, enabling more efficient and cost-effective data capture methods. The Drone Pilot Academy provides Operating Safety Case (OSC) consultancy and training for extended-range flights, opening up new opportunities for businesses looking to expand their capabilities. Andreas Garbe, of AG Surveys Ltd., is one such example.

“Having an Operating Safety Case for extended-range flights has had a positive impact on our business. We now have the possibility to fly larger areas as we are not bound by the usual 500m operating radius the Civil Aviation Authority regulations stipulate. We can take on larger projects and accomplish the work in fewer flights. The CAA regulations are still followed, but with additional observers, the OSC has given us the flexibility to offer more efficient and cost-effective services to our clients.

We spoke to Andreas to find out about his experience obtaining an OSC, and how it impacted the services they can provide.

Obtaining an Operating Safety Case with the Drone Pilot Academy

“Having an Operating Safety Case has allowed us to be more at ease about the size of the area we need to survey. By having the possibility to fly larger areas with observers and additional paperwork, we can choose better start and landing spaces as well as reducing the time spent on site.

The OSC consultancy provided by Paul at DPA greatly helped us with obtaining the necessary certifications for our drone. It sped up the process significantly by reducing the time we would have spent on understanding and addressing all the requirements, with clarifications to the CAA going forth and back. The aviation industry has complex regulations, and the consultancy from Paul helped us put together a strong case and address any issues specific to our situation, saving us a lot of time and ensuring accuracy in our application. We worked with DPA to finetune the application, once they were happy the guidelines were fulfilled, we added work and drone-specific detail, which was then cross-referenced back by DPA.”

Operating Safety Case: Enhancing Business Opportunities

Obtaining an operating safety case for extended-range flights has had a transformative impact on Andreas’ business. With the newfound freedom to fly larger areas, the company can undertake more extensive projects without the time and cost constraints of multiple flights covering the same area. Work that would have taken multiple flights and multiple start and landings in various places can now be accomplished in fewer flights, streamlining operations, and reducing costs. The OSC has empowered Andreas to offer more efficient and cost-effective services to clients, positioning his company as a leading player in the coastal and 3D LiDAR survey domain.

Traditionally, coastal surveys were completed on foot, with surveyors walking the entire length of the beach. The introduction of new survey technology did enable quicker data capture by using quad bikes and terrestrial scanners, speeding up some aspects of the work-up on site. The team started using Trimble fixed-wing drones in 2017, and as recommended by the manufacturer, the Drone Pilot Academy undertook the pilot training. However, it was challenging to convince clients that the data obtained through photogrammetry was accurate enough for their needs.

Ensuring the acquired data’s accuracy to satisfy the client’s stringent requirements presented a notable challenge. The business changed to using a hexacopter from Clogworks, mainly for its flight duration and wind resistance, coupled with a Riegl MiniVux3 LiDAR system, in order to facilitate the creation of intricate height models renowned for their exceptional precision.

One particularly intriguing project they undertook involved the surveying of Abersoch Beach. Previously, accomplishing this task would have entailed numerous flights to cover the extensive 3.5km expanse of the beach. However, by leveraging the advanced capabilities of the Clogworks Dark Matter drone combined with LiDAR technology, they efficiently completed the survey in just two flights. This significantly minimised both the time and effort invested in the project, without compromising on the quality.

Moving Forward with Drone Technology

The drone AG Surveys use for coastal surveying is British-made so servicing and repair work can be undertaken quickly if and when needed. It is a heavy-lift drone with a one-metre diameter. Andreas has equipped it with a Riegl MiniVUX3 LiDAR system, as the main focus of the surveys is creating height models for solar farms, beach monitoring and 3D mapping in restricted access areas. They found that previous drones were limited by the 500-metre range, so went through extensive training and obtained an operating safety case to extend the range. This involved a lot of paperwork and training, including additional flight and operating training, GVC conversion, and assistance from the Drone Pilot Academy in developing the safety case. Observers also needed to be trained to not just spot airspace incursions but also to control emergency landing spots and clear communication.

By harnessing their Clogworks drone equipped with LiDAR, Andreas and his team are now able to accomplish an astounding volume of work with less on-site time, significantly streamlining their operations. While this transformative approach does necessitate additional processing in-office, the benefits achieved make it more than worth it.

What’s Next for Coastal Surveying and Drone Technology?

In the field of coastal surveys, the use of drones is already shifting the way data is captured and how surveying is done. Over the past 5-10 years, there has been a constant acceleration in the use of drones for data collection, and this trend is likely to continue. The technology is advancing rapidly, and with increased computing power and data capture, processing will only become faster and more efficient. Expect to see changes in various areas, such as documentation on building sites and the creation of accurate digital twins.

Drones, like Clogworks Dark Matter equipped with the Riegl MiniVUX3 LiDAR, enable the collection of a large amount of accurate data. This allows for highly detailed representations of the real world in a digital format and the more frequent use of point clouds with billions of colour-coded and classified data points. As technology continues to progress, datasets and survey areas will increase in size, providing even more representative results.

 “We believe that the future surveys will involve further advancements in drone technology, and we envisage using our drone in these future projects to efficiently capture accurate data and provide valuable insights. We recommend contacting the Drone Pilot Academy, as they offer detailed courses taught by experts with an aviation background to help companies like ours to adapt to the needs of the CAA regulations.”

– Andreas Garbe

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