The Phantom Flight School has decided it’s the right time to launch a new Pilot Competence Programme. The programme involves a colour-coded grading system based on their clients’ proven knowledge, ability and experience, with the idea that “the more challenging the situation or the demands, in terms of video and photo output, the more expert a drone pilot will need to be to achieve the required results safely and effectively.”
The programme harks back to the core team’s background as skiers, including founder Alan Proto. “We’ve taken the way ski slopes are graded as a way to think about competence,” he told us, with a similar colour scheme in place. “Someone just starting out as a drone pilot, who has completed a two-hour drone flying lesson with us, will be graded as ‘Green Competent’. Someone with more experience, who knows more about their equipment, has a solid understanding of the law as it relates to drones and has flown in more places, would be judged by us as being ‘Blue Competent’.”
If you want to upgrade to Red you’ll need to be “sufficiently good that you would pass our Permission for Commercial Operations flight test, and for your photographic and videographic abilities to be of a good standard.” The top Black award will only be given to “drone pilots whose flying skills, theoretical knowledge and understanding, flight planning and risk assessment, and photo and video skills, are of the highest standard.” Seasoned pilots approaching the Phantom Flight School or the first time will be given the opportunity to display their abilities to the team and be graded accordingly.
On a Mission
To complete the programme, the colour-coding system is also being filtered into the Phantom Flight School’s mission planning support. The team is keen to encourage its pilots to think about how difficult their next flight could be – as we’re told “it is a lot easier to avoid a mistake in the first place, than to correct it once it has happened,” and underestimating the dangers associated with flying can be a common cause of any crashes.To help with this the team has created a checklist of 30 multiple choice questions (available in both a physical and online version), with each of the four possible answers carrying a points total from 1-4. For example, a question about the wind speed in the location of your planned flight has the options for ‘Less than 5mph’ (scoring 1 point), ‘5-10mph’ (2 points), ‘10-15mph’ (3 points) and ‘More than 15mph’ (the maximum 4 points).
After answering all questions you’ll get a total score that is converted to a colour – with 40 points or less giving you a Green mission, 40-60 points as Blue, 60-80 points as Red and anything higher scores a Black, and therefore highly difficult, rating. A pilot with a Green competency level should be comfortable with a Green mission, a Red pilot with a Red mission and so on. If a pilot is faced with a colour that is a step or two above their own competency level, then they might want to think twice about taking off until conditions change or they’re able to gain more experience.
To reflect how this system might translate into your daily routine, Alan recalls his own experiences at each end of the scale. “The hardest flight I ever completed was filming an Ocean-racing yacht in the Solent, using a small rib to pursue it, in high winds and choppy seas. Delivering the drone back safely into the hands of my co-pilot in the front of the boat in 25knot winds under angry skies had my heart rate up at 180. For me, that was certainly the equivalent of a Black run.
At the other end of the spectrum, flying my P4 Pro on a sunny, still day over the multiple playing fields of a nearby school counts for me as the equivalent of a Green run.”It’s worth noting that the Pilot Competence Programme isn’t designed to help with the announced safety awareness training that will be required of anyone owning a drone weighing more than 250g – as that will most likely cover the basics of where you can (or can’t) fly, the core regulations and general flight safety. As Alan explained, “to be part of our Pilot Competence Programme, your skills will need to be well beyond this.”
You can find out more about the Phantom Flight School and the various services on offer by heading over to its website www.phantomflightschool.co.uk.
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