DJI has announced a “mandatory” software update for the operating systems of the drones it’s selling to the public. Motivated by one of its Phantom drones crashing on the White House grounds, and the President’s subsequent comment that drones need to be regulated, DJI’s “mandatory” update would prevent it’s aircraft (because that’s what they are) from operating over the most restricted airspace in the United States, i.e. the White House, as well as, reportedly, 10,000 US airports.
The only problem with DJI’s good intentions is that the update, which they characterize as “mandatory,” is anything but. The only one who has authority to make something like this mandatory is the FAA. Now we concede that DJI may treat it as mandatory, not to mention sensible, but they have no way to insure that the owners of the thousands of DJI aircraft already being flown comply with what they think is either mandatory or even sensible.
Plane-ly Spoken suggests that this is a great example of why the small UAS NPRM, which we all await, should, irrespective of the apparent disagreement between DOT and OIRA, address “operating standards for model aircraft and low performance (e.g. toy)” such as this operation [Link]. Regulation is the only means to mandate that a software restriction be hard-wired into drones like the DJI aircraft. “Recommend” is good. “Mandate” is better.
All of us hope that this quadcopter crashing on the White House grounds was an anomaly. Unfortunately, the number of reported encounters between aircraft/helicopters and drones suggest this is not the case.
While the outcry from the recreational/hobbyist community is probably going to increase if the NPRM covers either their operations or the aircraft they fly, common sense should tell everyone it’s the only responsible way of proceeding. The recreational/hobbyist community ought to recognize this and turn its attention to cracking down on members of its own community who have created the need for such a regulatory approach. This is a classic case of the few ruining it for everyone else.
(Originally posted February 3, 2015)