DJI‘s VP of Policy and Legal Affairs Brendan Schulman testified at the Senate Subcommittee Hearing on drone integration this morning, in support of the industry’s technology solutions towards drone safety.
DJI, the leading manufacturer of small unmanned aircraft systems, has taken a leading role in advocating for the drone industry in Washington, participating in committees and coalitions in collaboration with the FAA and other industry leaders. This morning, Mr. Schulman testified that the industry is “the technology behind the revolution,” and is “leading the way” on safety. Schulman testified that safety was DJI’s highest priority – but that it was important for regulators to understand the technology solutions before enacting regulations. Schulman emphasized that operator education is also an important factor in safety – and explained how industry can and does participate. “The overwhelming majority of drone operators want to follow the rules and operate safely,” said Schulman in written testimony. “DJI and our fellow members in the Drone Manufacturers Alliance strongly believe that education offers an effective way to promote safety that can be responsive to emerging concerns – something that can’t be said for rigid, prescriptive regulatory approaches. As part of our safety initiatives, DJI educates our users about operating drones safely, including through our on-screen safety information, our in-person New Pilot Experience courses, our video tutorials, our flight simulator built in to the drone, our beginner mode feature, and our in-box safety inserts from the FAA-endorsed “Know Before You Fly” campaign.”
Schulman promised an announcement of a further initiative to ensure that new operators are aware of flight rules before they fly. “We recently partnered with the venerable Academy of Model Aeronautics to launch a joint program to promote safe and responsible drone operations. We are also at work on a new feature to help ensure that our customers are aware of the rules of safe flight before they fly a drone, and hope to announce that initiative in the coming weeks.”
After describing many of the benefits that drones provide, Schulman asked for regulatory support for commercial and humanitarian applications. “Innovative applications like these can be facilitated by comprehensive regulations that maintain the safety of the airspace while presenting reasonable operational requirements,” he testified. “….However, more work remains. Many of our commercial users have told us that FAA approvals for part 107 flights in controlled airspace, even at very low altitudes, take weeks and these delays often cost them the very job they are applying for. Streamlining and eventually automating these approvals is one area for improvement in the part 107 system that would result in immediate economic benefits to commercial drone pilots and to the nation. ”
Schulman’s spoken testimony asked for consideration of the increasing proliferation of state and local laws, many of which limit commercial drone operations. His written testimony went further, asking legislators to reconsider a “micro” category, and asking that lawmakers move forward on expanding regular BVLOS flight, flight over people, and flight at night. “Research and rulemaking priorities should focus on rules that enable the broadest range of beneficial applications that can be achieved within today’s technological capabilities. For example, a rule for routine part 107 night operations would enable search and rescue operations during critical hours when time is of the essence. That’s just one example of an immediate benefit that can be realized through nothing more than rulemaking,” writes Schulman. “Delays in the rulemaking process will have a negative economic impact, and curtail public safety operations, including those that save lives.”
Schulman points out that while technology features such as geofencing offer safety options, they aren’t designed to be used as a sledgehammer solution. “The notion that airports and drones never mix is an oversimplification,” he points out. “We have many customers doing important work at airports, enhancing the safety of the national airspace system. Similarly, our live geofencing system can help prevent drones from entering wildfire locations, but we also know that firefighters are using our drones to keep themselves safe and to help fight fires. Completely disabling a drone in such locations would result in a net detriment to public safety.”
“Here is the lesson we have learned that only comes with actual operational experience across hundreds of thousands of customers: while geofencing is a great feature that helps prevent inadvertent operations, it will always require a balanced approach involving exceptions. Requiring drones to simply turn off when they are near airports is not the right solution to safety concerns.”
Schulman’s testimony points out that identifying a single technology in rulemaking is a mistake, locking the industry into a soon to be outdated solution. “…locking in any specific technology mandate will discourage DJI and our colleagues in the industry from continuing to rapidly develop new safety technologies,” he writes. “A requirement to implement the best technology available today discourages manufacturers from developing the even better safety technologies of tomorrow.”
Finally, Schulman emphasized that recreational operators should not be forgotten in the rush to support commercial applications. “Of key importance to the future of innovation in our industry is maintaining a pathway for people to experiment with technology on a personal level,” he points out. “Today’s hobbyist is tomorrow’s inventor, and tomorrow’s inventor is next year’s technology industry pioneer.”
“As you move forward with potential UAS legislation, and the FAA continues with its steady pace of aviation rulemaking,” writes Schulman, “we all owe it to future generations of aviation pioneers and visual artists to balance the safety goals we all share with the benefits of a transformative new technology, and leave unburdened these important pathways to innovation.”
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has penned over 3,000 articles focused on the commercial drone space and is an international speaker and recognized figure in the industry. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
For drone industry consulting or writing, Email Miriam.
Subscribe to DroneLife here.