The evolution of drone flight safety will make a big leap in January 2020.
DJI is taking the lead by rolling out its Elevating Safety program, which includes having ADS-B on board all its new drones at the beginning of next year.
Why is this important to general aviation pilots?
The simple answer is that more and more unmanned aerial systems (UAS) are filling the skies as the drone industry continues to explode. That explosive growth is due not just to recreational drone pilots, but professionals in a variety of industries, including agriculture, inspection, filmmaking, search and rescue, real estate, and many more who are discovering what unmanned aircraft can do for them.
For example, we see in the news almost daily about new uses for drones, including package delivery, transport of medical supplies, and other advanced uses.
With these new uses for drones, we are likely to see larger unmanned aircraft in the skies, not just the tiny two-pound camera drones that are whirring about now.
Along with this explosive growth comes the obvious need to manage air traffic better.
Ask any manned aircraft pilot about drones and they will usually point out the concerns of a potential accident between their plane and a drone.
Employing ADS-B is a major step in giving drone operators better situational awareness regarding the traffic in their flight area.
How Will This Work?
The DJI drones will be equipped with Airsense, which provides ADS-B In. That means drone operators will only have the ability to receive transmissions from other aircraft. It does not include ADS-B Out, which transmits an aircraft’s location.
ADS-B In alerts the person operating the drone of nearby aircraft.
This realtime awareness uses a combination of satellite and radio signals to identify the locations of other aircraft and alert the drone operator quickly. This situational awareness will be a great tool in helping the drone operator understand and respond to other traffic in their flight area.
Because it uses ADS-B In, the alerts won’t clog up congested airwaves with additional transmissions.
While ADS-B is a major part of the drone industry’s safety plans, it is not the only thing involved.
It seems everyone in the drone industry is applying different approaches and policies toward making flight operations safer for both manned and unmanned flying.
The FAA, for example, has made recent changes and proposals for recreational operators, as well as recurrence certification processes for Part 107 pilots.
DJI’s Elevating Safety program addresses an additional nine key elements centered around improving standards for unmanned aircraft integration into the skies. Those elements include:
- DJI will develop a new automatic warning for drone pilots flying at extended distances;
- DJI will establish an internal Safety Standards Group to meet regulatory and customer expectations;
- Aviation industry groups must develop standards for reporting drone incidents;
- All drone manufacturers should install geofencing and remote identification;
- Governments must require remote identification;
- Governments must require a user-friendly knowledge test for new drone pilots;
- Governments must clearly designate sensitive restriction areas;
- Local authorities must be allowed to respond to drone threats that are clear and serious; and
- Governments must increase enforcement of laws against unsafe drone operation.
In a white paper describing the safety efforts, company officials say: “DJI is charting a path for ensuring drones remain a safe addition to the airspace.”
That safety path is critical as the skies become more crowded.
The fact is, drones are not going away.
There’s no doubt that we will reach a point some day where drone flights are common place. That’s why it’s crucial that we take the time now to establish a solid, recognized set of rules and technologies to maximize safe operations — and the drone manufacturers know this.
Establishing better communication protocols benefit all pilots, manned and unmanned. The attention to advancing these technologies is a welcome step forward.