26 October 2021
It’s a satisfying feeling to be back in a space you were once so familiar with. Like coming back from a long trip downroute and being reacquainted with the sights and smells of the place you call ‘home’.
Being paid to travel, pass through borders and weave through the cultural tapestry of life is a very privileged existence. Though it cannot be denied, the idea of returning home to a familiar space after extended time away can often be a welcoming and wholesome experience; offering a sense of security and certainty in the ever evolving and changing life that most crewmembers lead.
Strangely though, the space I refer to here is not ‘home ’as such, but does carry the same familiarity. I speak of an airport, a place so recognisable and yet, up to recently, a space almost alien for most of us to visit. Of course, travelling now is very different to that of 18 months ago and the rooms we were ushered through in early 2020 as crew or passengers are now very different. The concern being not so much about finding the correct gate, but rather on navigating through the pile of paperwork and testing required to push through to the other side.
The last time I passed through a terminal was September last year, repatriating from the Gulf into Heathrow. The enduring image left with me was one of empty departure lounges, carousels otherwise absent of baggage and a somewhat clinical feeling to a place usually bustling with people returning home, greeting friends and family in the arrivals hall.
Travelling through Luton a few weeks ago and finding a place which once again had purpose brought a real feeling of satisfaction. Watching a place emerge from its slumber, reawakening after such a period of dormancy brought real hope that the industry was indeed turning a corner. I took the opportunity just to sit for 10 minutes to absorb the moment; the sights and sounds of a once familiar place, appreciating a sight which only a few months earlier would have been completely unimaginable. Almost cathartic in many ways, it brought comfort and fulfilment to return ‘home’.
This edition, the blog is taking an unusual twist.
In line with exploring familiar places and the world opening up, as well as the ongoing discussions of wellbeing in the industry, I felt it relevant to talk about a recent trip I’d made to the Highlands of Scotland.
What’s this got to do with a business blog?
Well, the last time I wrote for RP, I identified the need to project my brand and business concept using the web as a virtual shop window for my services. As a media business, this is of particular relevance as the development of a portfolio or ‘showreel ’of previous work offers real potential for attracting clients and generating business.
Finding material to film using a drone in the South East can be a bit of challenge, particularly due to the number of airports and populated areas I live near to… I decided to head north.
When you think of Scotland, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Aside from cans of Irn Bru, battered Mars Bars and Mel Gibson’s terrible accent in the 1995 critically acclaimed classic known as Braveheart, I’d suggest that the scenery is probably up there. And why not? The landscapes are infinitely inspiring. In another lifetime as a trained geologist, I spent a lot of time in this part of the UK, climbing its diverse and visually galvanising panoramas. Familiar with some of the islands on the Western Isles, I recently decided to take my Smart Car north - 622 miles north to be exact - to Skye and Raasay to capture some shots for my website.
The trip didn’t disappoint.
As it turns out, planning UAV flights is remarkably similar to that of VFR flying and carries similar considerations. First off, have a destination and an objective: Think about what you’d like to achieve and how you intend to execute it. Most drones have a battery life of 25-28 mins so plan your flights appropriately. It’s not practical to take lots of kit, or batteries up a mountain so list what you need and be disciplined. Remember: If going into isolated environments, prepare accordingly. Carry kit relevant to the conditions and if walking alone, leave a contact number, plan and expected time back with someone for your route.
I spent the week prior to the trip identifying a few filming locations using an OS 1:50,000 map; planning legs, highlighting points of high ground and flagging landing sites in case of unforeseen events. Downloading the ‘UK Map’ app on my iPhone was particularly helpful and allowed me to plan shots by visualising OS maps in their three-dimensional form. I fly manually most of time, though there is now software available to programme your drone to fly between waypoints on a predetermined route. The ‘UAV Forecast’ app proved particularly helpful to identify operating windows within the changeable weather of the Highlands - particularly the winds associated with this part of the UK. It’s free up for 24hrs of forecast, upgradable at cost. Light also plays a big part in capturing a good image, and aside from a few YouTube tutorials about using filters, the ‘Suncalc’ app was invaluable when verifying the azimuth of the sun at my site locations to achieve the best results.
A couple of planning considerations for this part of the world: The Highlands is used extensively by the UK military for low level ops, in fact, this part of the Highlands is on the edge of Low Flying Area 14T.
Always have a consideration for the airspace you are operating in. If planning on flying in mountainous areas of the UK or abroad, check to see if you’re affected. I’ve listed a few useful sites below for planning purposes:
• https://dronesafetymap.com/ - via Altitude Angel. Great for visualising airspace temporary restrictions and ground hazards as well as relevant contact numbers, spanning 152 countries. • www.notaminfo.com/ukmap - up to date NOTAMS, plotted on a map.
• EVFR app - an easy to download map overview of airspace in the UK.
Ultimately, if in doubt: call up your local air traffic unit or military base to confirm any temporary activity on the day.
Part of the pre-planning exercise also required a risk assessment. Working in an isolated part of the Highlands removes many of the risks associated with humans, though other considerations such as weather, icing a lack of nearby assistance require some thought. Think about the nearest medical facilities within the vicinity of your operating area and have the number saved and easily accessible.
Ultimately, have a plan and stick to it. Whether you get the footage on the day is irrelevant - you can always return. A search of the web will identify sites to help you do a generic risk assessment. Think: What will have an impact on my operation? How can I mitigate against this?
As with flying, you will never eliminate risk, though you can bring it down to a level that is As Low As Reasonably Practicable (ALARP). Make sure you have the required permissions and insurance where necessary.
I’ve listed a number of considerations below when carrying out this exercise:
Airspace - Restricted? Military low flying areas.
Terrain - Type of terrain, hard to access? Risk of CFIT.
Proximities - Other aircraft, nearby aerodromes.
Hazards - Live firing, high intensity radio transmissions affecting signal etc.
Restrictions - Prisons and other relevant no fly zones.
Sensitivities - Local by laws, land access permissions.
Obstructions - Wires, masts etc.
People - Walkers, people considered ‘uninvolved ’- not briefed.
Livestock - Local farms, sheep etc.
Access - Rights of way, footpaths to reach your site.
Risk Reduction - Reducing risk ALARP.
Emergencies - Consider landing sites if things don’t go to plan. Have an accessible checklist to hand to avoid forgetting items if a crisis occurs.
So.. we’re now at a stage where we have a plan, have identified sites and times to film, planned a route and obtained the required kit and thought about contingencies.
Once on site, I made a few simple pre-flight checks of the kit, a review of the risk assessment and a wind measurement to confirm it was safe to operate.
A flight control check once airborne and then it was time to gather my planned shots. It was important to maintain situational awareness so I would position the drone and have an extensive look around every minute to make sure nothing had changed in my immediate operating area.
One of the trip highlights for me was climbing Dun Caan: In geological terms, a remnant of the Skye Lava Field, offering a viewing platform of neighbouring Skye and Applecross on the UK mainland. In Instagram terms, a visual feast - and a good opportunity to get some dramatic scenery for my photography portfolio.
Post-flight, a quick check was made of the equipment to ensure all items were serviceable for next time and then a log was made of the flight times to keep a record of the battery condition.
Overall, only one day had to be completely abandoned due to weather. And, having now had the opportunity to review the footage, a few post-production edits should leave me with some good material to showcase on the website.
More than anything however, this trip offered a chance for me to reset.
The conversation and focus around wellbeing is particularly strong and prevalent in aviation at present, notably so after the scars inflicted across the industry over the last 18 months.
Finding an activity or a place where you can detach yourself, even momentarily from the concerns of the present has never been more important and garners real relevance. For me, the purpose of this trip was to expand my portfolio, but the underlying feeling was actually something more cathartic; reconnecting with a place unchanged by the recent upheavals of covid, revisiting an old, yet familiar space and ultimately recalibrating to prepare for the next chapter as the green shoots of the industry start to show
Oliver is a First Officer on the A320 family aircraft and one of our pilot mentors at Resilient Pilot. Working in the industry for 8 years, he has great operational and life experience. Learn more about Oli on our 'Supported' page. You can also visit Oliver's exciting new website here: www.upaerial.co.uk