It's About to Get Much More Difficult to Fly DJI Drones Into Planes

Photo: Brendon Thorne (Getty)

Last year, when a Robinson R22 crashed outside of Charleston, South Carolina, the student pilot and instructor in the helicopter said they lost control of the aircraft as they tried to avoid a DJI Phantom quadcopter. The incident could have been one of the first drone-caused aircraft crashes in the U.S.

The crash came just a few months after the Federal Aviation Administration released a study that warned that the proliferation of civilian drones poses a threat to passenger aircraft. The report suggested drone makers put less metal in UAVs so the devices cause less damage upon impact.

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DJI seems to have another plan for their heavy drones—alert drone pilots when their UAVs are getting too close to an aircraft.

On Wednesday, DJI announced that starting in 2020, all drones the company manufactures that are heavier than 250 grams (about half a pound) will come with sensors that detect airplanes and helicopters.

According to DJI, these drones will be able to read Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) signals that aircraft emit. The technology—which DJI calls AirSense—is able to detect aircraft that are miles away, and it shows drone pilots on their controls where the airplane or helicopter is on a map. While the system alerts drone pilots, it doesn’t make drones fly away from nearby aircraft.

In DJI’s announcement of the technology, it touted its own 37-page report on drone safety and criticized the drone incident data collection of government regulators.

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“When the public, media and regulators focus on outrageous incidents that did not occur, it draws attention away from risks that are less sensational but more prevalent,” Brendan Schulman, DJI vice president for policy and legal affairs, said in the statement. “There has never been a confirmed collision between a drone and an airplane, but drones have struck low-flying helicopters at least twice.”

Schulman explained this is why DJI decided to focus on implementing aircraft detection into their drones, suggesting the company may not be taking the advice that government agencies have provided.

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At least this might hinder drone pilots from flying near airports and causing flights to be grounded.

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Jennings Brown

Senior editor and reporter at Gizmodo