National Wildfire Coordinating Group

Safety Considerations

Safety is the principal consideration in all aspects of UAS operation. A safe UAS operation depends on accurate risk assessment and informed decision-making.

Risk levels are established by the severity of possible events and the probability that they will occur. Assessing risk identifies the hazard and associated risk, and it places the hazard in a relationship to the mission. A decision to conduct a mission requires weighing the risk against the benefit of the mission and deciding whether the risks are acceptable.

Examples of the Risk Management Process are available in the NWCG Incident Response Pocket Guide (IRPG), PMS 461, the Interagency Standards for Fire and Fire Aviation Operations (Red Book), CAL FIRE 8300 Handbook, and the NWCG Standards for Helicopter Operations, PMS 510.

Factors to consider during the risk assessment process:

  1. Any flight mission has a degree of risk that varies from 0% (no flight activity is conducted) to 100% (aircraft and/or personnel experience a mishap).
  2. The UAS crew must identify hazards, analyze the degree of risk associated with each, and place hazards in perspective relative to the mission or task.
  3. Hazards might not always be limited to the performance of flight but may include hazards to personnel if the flight is not performed.
  4. The risk assessment may include the aerial supervisor, AOBD, duty officers, agency fire management staff, ICs, dispatchers, and line officers/managers.
  5. Ultimately the pilot-in-command has the authority to decline a flight mission that they consider excessively hazardous.

Risk Mitigation Considerations

UAS operations must not proceed until risk mitigation measures are implemented.

  1. Monitor the overall aviation operation for issues related to human factors.
  2. Operational tempo or complexity.
  3. Task saturation.
  4. Fatigue, burnout, and stress.
  5. Acceptance of risk as normal.
  6. Lack of SA.
  7. Complacency.
  8. Not using checklist.
  9. Rushing or a sense of urgency.
  10. Utilize the appropriate aircraft for the mission.
  11. Fixed-wing vs. multi-rotor.
  12. Density altitude.
  13. Payload types.
  14. Flight duration.
  15. LRZ.


Ensure communication can be maintained on assigned frequencies.

Obtain Input

Discuss operations safety with other pilots. Mission debriefings are an excellent source of information. UAS crew members will utilize After Action Reviews (AAR) to critique mission effectiveness with other incidents and airbases when possible.





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