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Why every pilot needs a drone logbook

Logbooks have long been an essential tool for pilots to record time and training. It serves two purposes: being used toward future certificates and ratings, and maintaining currency to stay in regulator compliance. And even though drone piloting is a little (okay, a lot) different than manned aviation, you should still keep a drone logbook — not unlike what traditional pilots do.

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Are U.S. drone pilots required to keep a logbook?

Pilots flying under Part 107 aren’t required to keep a logbook, but they should — in fact, the FAA recommends it.

According to FAA’s Part 107.7, “A remote pilot-in-command, owner, or person manipulating the flight controls of a small unmanned aircraft system must, upon request, make available to the administrator…Any other document, record, or report required to be kept under the regulations of this chapter.”

Here’s what that legal speak means in human speak: the FAA might ask you to provide documentation for any number of circumstances, like where you flew, how long you flew, who was operating the drone vs. who was the remote pilot in command (if different). And a logbook maintained by you yourself is a great way to keep up with that documentation.

But for pilots flying under the Section 333 exemption, which is what drone pilots used to operate drones commercially from 2014 to 2016, or who are flying under an FAA COA it’s actually a legal requirement.

Keep in mind that flying in countries outside the U.S. come with their own set of rules, so check your local rules before flying. In fact, some countries require handwritten logs of your flight — so pay attention to individual governmental rules.

That said, traditional, piloted aircraft pilots do need to keep logbooks, and they need to be filled out a certain way to maintain compliance

4 reasons to keep a drone logbook:

There are oodles of reasons to keep a logbook. And many of them come with a financial incentive too — helping you to either save money, or earn more money. Here are just a few reasons why it’s financially smart to keep a drone logbook:

  • Getting hired for jobs: If you’re applying for a job as a drone pilot, prospective employers want proof and documentation of your experience
  • Picking up gigs: If you’re a freelance drone pilot, a logbook is an easy way to prove to clients how much experience you have
  • Qualifying for lower drone insurance rates: Some drone insurance companies price their rates based on factors unique to you, including your experience level. An insurance company would typically be more likely to offer a lower rate to someone with tons of flying experience, or who is consistently flying similar routes in the same area. A logbook is an easy way to prove that to insurers.
  • Getting approved for waivers: If you ever find yourself applying for a Part 107 waiver (essential for flying in otherwise illegal situations such as at night or over people), you’ll almost always need a logbook of past flights in order to get approved for a waiver for future flights. The FAA issues approvals for such waivers — and they require oodles of paperwork to go with it. Logbooks are a simple piece of paperwork to throw in.

What actually goes into a drone logbook?

Okay, so you’ve been convinced to keep a drone logbook. But what does a drone logbook look like, and what sort of content should go into it?

There’s no hard and fast rule for everything that needs to go into a drone log, but consider documenting:

  • Date and time of flight: Note differences in time of day (ie. flying at 6 p.m. in the summer might look different than flying at 6 p.m. in winter).
  • Length of flight: Be sure to specify time spent flying, hovering and taking off/landing, as differences here can affect battery life and flight time.
  • Location of flight: Note if you were flying in controlled airspace (and if so, note documentation such as LAANC approvals), whether there were any TFRs nearby or affecting your flight, etc.
  • Information about aircraft flown: Note any possible abnormal conditions like powering it up, battery life, replacement parts needed, etc. Document how many flights have been done with that aircraft (was it your first flight with a new drone?). If your drone is carrying a payload, note what it carried, and details such as weight.
  • Information about pilot: If someone other than yourself was flying, note their years of experience, name, license information, etc.
  • Conditions of flight: Document weather, lighting conditions, people nearby, etc. Was it raining hard, or just a light mist? Was there a breeze, or was your flight done in heavy winds?

Types of drone logbooks

Paper logbooks

Paper might be preferable to digital. No logins to deal with, no batteries to charge, no worries about your data being stolen, no worries about no cell connection, etc. Plus, you may find writing by hand more efficient than typing.

It doesn’t have to be complicated. A simple notebook, not unlike a diary, can be sufficient. Write your notes directly into the lines of a basic notebook. It’s simple, and it’s cheap — pilots on a budget can get notebooks for less than a dollar each. Pilots with a taste for aesthetics but who prefer their pages to be blank might opt for a vintage, travel-inspired notebook or cockpit-inspired design.

If a blank page is, well, too, blank, you can also purchase notebooks designed specifically as a flight logbook. These can help keep you more organized by prompting you what to write.

Jonathan Rupprecht, an aviation attorney focusing in drone law (who is also a commercial pilot with single-engine, multi-engine, and instrument ratings who is also a drone pilot himself), developed a Drone Operator’s Logbook that sells for less than $15. That book prompts you of what to fill in. There are pages to list the pilot’s details, like name, address, and ratings, pages to add waivers and endorsements, pages to detail the drones you own and operate, and more.

Aviation Supplies & Academics also offers their own, 104-page logbook geared toward Part 107 drone pilots, which also sells for less than $15.

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Digital logbooks

DJI drones (which you’re most likely flying, considering they have far and away the most massive market share), record flight times automatically. But you’ll likely want to log more than just flight times. Log nuances in flights, authorizations needed, information about the pilots and more. That’s where other, third-party apps come into play.

There are oodles of apps and other software services that can log your drone flights, including Kittyhawk, AirHub, AirMap and DroneBuddy. Some apps are free, some are paid, and some are a hybrid of both, offering add-on paid offerings.

Perhaps the biggest benefit of digital logbooks over the paper version? Most apps automatically sync data with the drones (especially if you’re flying drones from major drone makers like DJI), meaning little work on your end to do logging. While you’re certainly want to add additional notes on-hand that the drone wouldn’t know to add, such as lighting conditions, interactions with other people, or other uncommon scenarios, the actual flight map and length of flight can be automatically added, and it’s likely always going to be much more precise than notes you make by hand.

And many of the digital logbook apps do more than just logging flights.

For example, Kittyhawk allows you to log flight data, but also provides features like the ability to make LAANC authorizations (in fact, Kittyhawk says it has processed 44% of all LAANC authorizations nationwide), check airspace and weather, get real-time UTM and aircraft telemetry, and sync data from DJI drones.

Another big player, Skyward (which was acquired by Verizon), also allows you to make LAANC requests, and automatically logs flights from DJI drones (it can also sync to other services like DroneDeploy). Their app is free, but has in-app upgrades available for purchase.

Not an app person but still want to go digital? The Drone Trainer created free Microsoft Excel and Apple Numbers versions of a drone logbook, making it simple for you to fill in information you deem relevant, like battery information, specific location tracking, flight times and maintenance logging. What’s nice about their spreadsheets is if you want to create custom columns or rows, you can always just duplicate their spreadsheet to tailor to your specific needs — a level of customization you wouldn’t necessarily be able to do with an app.

Do you maintain logs of all of your drone flights? What tips do you have for maintaining drone flight logs? Leave a comment below!

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