DJI’s recently-released white paper, “Elevating Safety: Protecting the Skies in the Drone Era,” describes 10 “calls to action” that drone manufacturers, the aviation industry, and governments must take to protect the growth of the drone industry and chart a path to ensure drones remain a safe addition to the airspace. DJI is a Chinese technology company headquartered in Shenzen, whose products account for 70 percent of the international consumer drone market.1
From a regulatory perspective, Canada has already taken steps to incorporate into its regulatory framework several of the preconditions to safety and development of the industry, as DJI has set out in its white paper. Canada’s drone regulatory framework was recently overhauled; the new regulations came into force on June 1, 2019. While some operators have criticized the new regulatory framework by suggesting that compliance has become more challenging, the new regulations are an important step forward toward the safe and efficient integration of drones into Canada’s airspace.
In great detail, the white paper sets out i) an overview of drone safety research and development efforts, ii) the data for reliable information to support necessary safety enhancements for drones and ii) DJI’s “commitments to safety” and its call for all stakeholders in the drone industry to embrace the necessary steps towards safety.
DJI’s 10 steps for the drone industry are as follows:
1) DJI will install AirSense ADS-B receivers in all new drones above 250 grams
Aircraft outfitted with ADS-B transmitters can transmit information about their location, speed, altitude, and other signals to air traffic controllers and other aircraft nearby that have ADS-B receivers. DJI’s AirSense feature will equip all new DJI drones above 250 grams with ADS-B receivers, and provide DJI drone pilots with the ability to see the locations of nearby ADS-B-equipped aircraft on the pilot’s controller.
Starting in January 2020, the Federal Aviation Association (FAA) will require that ADS-B transmitters be installed in traditional aircraft flown in controlled airspace in the US. To date, Transport Canada has not similarly mandated ADS-B, but acknowledges that ADS-B technology supplements the current ground-based radar system. We are monitoring whether Transport Canada follows the FAA’s decision to mandate ADS-B transmitters in traditional aircraft, and whether it goes a step further to require them in drones. With more aircraft equipped with ADS-B transmitters, drone pilots will be able to better identify potentially conflicting aircraft (be it traditional aircraft or other DJI drones), and better avoid any potential collisions.
2) DJI will develop a new automatic warning for drone pilots flying at extended distances
Part IX of the Canadian Aviation Regulations contemplates that drones will be flown within the visual line of sight of the operator. DJI commits to developing flight software that reminds drone pilots to keep within a visual line of sight by displaying a warning when drones “fly a significant distance from the ground control station” (take-off point), and will account for not only distance, but also the “relative angle of view with respect to the pilot.”
3) DJI will establish an Internal Safety Standards Group to ensure its drones meet regulatory and customer expectations
Because drones are used in increasingly complicated and risky operations, DJI commits to establishing internal standards for “drone performance, reliability and maintenance.”
The Canadian Aviation Regulations (the CARs) incorporate more rigorous manufacturing and technical, safety-focused requirements for drones that will be used in advanced operations (being operations conducted closer to people and buildings).2
4) The Industry should develop standards for reporting drone incidents
Currently, there is no standardized framework in place for collecting reports of drone incidents. DJI cites various aviation experts, groups and studies detailing the unreliability of the current data on drone incidents. The studies have discovered that most reported drone incidents often occur at heights far above the standard altitude that drones fly, and that in many of the incidents, the reporting pilots are unable verify that what they encountered was a drone instead of a bird or balloon. DJI demands that the aviation industry develop standards for reporting drone incidents to form a reliable database from which data-driven safety precautions can be developed.
5) All manufacturers should install geofencing and remote identification
Geofencing technology prevents drones from flying in restricted locations, such as airports, prisons, military bases and near other critical infrastructure. DJI was the first company to use on-board GPS receivers to automatically disable its drones from flying into certain locations, and calls upon other drone manufacturers to implement basic geofencing technology.
DJI also stresses to its fellow drone manufacturers to install remote identification features in their products. DJI’s AeroScope system is the first widely available remote ID solution for drones. AeroScope allows airport operators, law enforcement and other authorities to determine automatically the location, direction, altitude and serial number of DJI drones in the relevant area, and reveals the drone pilot’s location.
6) Governments must require remote identification
Remote identification is an essential part of keeping drone pilots accountable for their actions. With the ability to identify drones remotely, governments will be able to more effectively police unauthorized drone operations and take appropriate action.
7) Governments must require a user-friendly knowledge test for new drone pilots
According to DJI, governments must impose testing requirements for new drone pilots with respect to safe drone operation and laws specific to the drone pilot’s locality. DJI has already developed such a quiz with questions specifically tailored to the regulatory scheme of the country in which the drone pilot is located.
The CARs institute knowledge requirements for all drone pilots and require drone pilots to obtain certificates to conduct certain types of operations.3
8) Governments must clearly designate sensitive restricted areas
Drone manufacturers cannot adequately provide geofencing if they are not informed of the exact boundaries that their drones are prohibited from entering. Governments must create transparent and reasonable processes to designate sensitive sites where drone flights should be barred.
9) Local authorities must be empowered and capable of responding to drone threats
DJI believes that local police do not have guidelines to follow when responding to dangerous drone behaviour, and in some instances, they are “prohibited by law from interfering with a drone in flight”. This prohibition arises because old laws targeted at traditional aircraft are currently being applied to drones in many jurisdictions. Governments must implement legal processes, and adapt or create new legislation to deal with drones in order to facilitate local responses to prohibited drone behaviour.
In Canada, the RCMP are permitted to use certain interdiction methods (such as jamming devices) to interfere with radiocommunications between a drone and its operator. Though such measures are generally illegal under Canada’s Radiocommunication Act and the Criminal Code of Canada, an exemption order allows the RCMP to use these interdiction methods when protecting the public safety is necessary.
10) Governments must increase enforcement of laws against unsafe drone operation
The public sphere must trust that authorities will enforce and punish those drone users who disobey the law or operate drones dangerously. As drones become more pervasive in society, DJI believes that a strong enforceable regulatory framework for drone use will prevent public discourse from derailing the rapid growth of the industry. Increasing actual enforcement is a critical component of cultivating the public’s acceptance of drones as part of the airspace.
Thank you to Jonas Mutukistna (summer student) for his assistance in preparing this summary.
2 CAR 901.76(1)-(3).
3 CARs s. 901.54, 901.55, 901.63, 901.64