Trained to fly – Drone pilots in SeaBee Research Infrastructure

Drone pilots are a crucial part of the data collection for the SeaBee Research Infrastructure. We sat down with Tor Arne Johansen (NTNU) and Medyan Ghareeb (NIVA) who work with this part of SeaBee. They shared how drone pilots get certified, what they do to practice, and how SeaBee uses drone pilots from the partner institutions to fly the variety of missions needed for different scientific applications.

Medyan Ghareeb (NIVA) flies a drone as part of a training mission for SeaBee Reseach Infrastructure

Why does SeaBee Research Infrastructure need drone pilots?

SeaBee needs drone pilots to fly the state-of-the-art drones equipped with assorted sensors, during field missions to collect data on different species and environments in coastal areas of Norway. Many coastal areas have complex terrains to work in, so flying drones enables covering larger areas that would be a struggle to reach on foot.

Drone and sensor technology is constantly developing and improving, therefore SeaBee needs pilots who have the appropriate training, certifications and knowledge in operating drones to collect high quality data that can be used in research and coastal management.

How many drone pilots does SeaBee have?

There are multiple drone pilots at the partner institutes who are involved in SeaBee. 

At NIVA, under the umbrella of SeaBee Research Infrastructure, there are 7 pilots for Visual Line of Sight (VLOS) flights and 2 who can fly drones on Beyond Line of Sight (BLOS) flights under Tiepoint.

The regulations covering drone flights are complex, therefore other partners are obliged to fly under their respective operations manuals.

NTNU has 2 pilots flying under the NTNU operations manual, and NINA had 6 drone pilots working on a recent summer campaign (read more in the news about 440 drone missions and 100 thousand images) that can fly VLOS under NINA operations manual.

How does one become a drone pilot in SeaBee?

Pilot training and operating licenses are managed directly by the partner institutes. There are different levels of training and certification needed before one can fly drones, and the partners are constantly updating procedures to ensure all pilots remain compliant.

Medyan Ghareeb (NIVA) flying a drone during a training mission on the coast of Norway

When considering whether to take on drone pilot certification, Medyan suggests keeping the following in mind: 

“… potential Pilots are enthusiastic or at least willing for all the processes for example: training, regulations, hms, data, flight preparation, updating or buying in hardware and software and not just flying drones – the flying is just a small part of being a pilot.” 


What is the most exciting, and the most difficult moment during a drone flight? 

“It is exciting when it all comes together, a [drone] flight gets good data and the drone lands! Keeping pace with new regulations, training and hardware requirements can be difficult, and integrating/using new sensors can also offer many challenges” – Medyan Ghareeb, drone pilot at NIVA. 


What are the next steps for drone pilot operations in SeaBee Research Infrastructure? 

As the available SeaBee Research Infrastructure hardware becomes larger and more capable we need to keep up with training and regulations. This has different implications for the different partners. For example, at NIVA this means becoming capable in the Specific and PDRA, later SORA classes of operations. These are operations that require further training, more rigorous risk assessments, hardware needs and notices or permissions.