As a drone pilot, it is your responsibility to keep your craft out of the way of manned aircraft. That’s the law, you must do what they call sense and avoid, which is simply identifying manned craft and navigating to avoid a bad situation.

In the manned airspace, the typical solution is an ADS-B radio. This device both transmits your precise location to other pilots in the area, as well as receive the locations of other craft in the area. A full size ADS-B radio may be too much for a small drone to handle, but DJI has figured out a usable ADS-B receiver, and will begin to install them on drones in 2020.

Make no mistake, the FAA is planning to mandate a solution. We do not know yet what that solution will be, but since ADS-B is an FAA recognized tool already, DJI probably made the smart choice. We’ll see.

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CES 2018 dr DJI booth logo

Not that long ago, DJI made some headlines with their Aeroscope system, a drone detection system to identify UAS in the area. This system has been quietly added to many airports around the world. It is little more than an identification tool, however, and can basically do nothing but help law enforcement on the ground identify a rogue pilot.

Acting as an effective radar system, DJI Aeroscope is a powerful and invaluable tool, but it is only one small part of a larger system required to ensure air safety.

Adding ADS-B to drones from 2020 onward, DJI is natively supplying airspace awareness that will prove invaluable to safety. Some of this safety is available through Airmap now. When you use Airmap for LAANC approval, or otherwise engage in an active flight plan, you will be able to see all aircraft in your area that are reporting with an ADS-B transmitter.

AirMap live flight map

Putting situational awareness in the hands of every pilot should be a huge improvement for air safety, and accountability. I hope this becomes an industry trend.

As we say, an ADS-B receiver is only half of the battle. We’re not sure what it will take to install transmitters on drones as well. We’re also not sure yet if that’s a good idea. There is no doubt that two craft that plan to occupy similar airspace need to be aware of each other, but a helicopter flying by at 1000 feet altitude should not be confused by a blip on a map showing there is a toy drone flying 15 feet above the ground in your backyard.

A balance needs to be obtained, one of transparent operations balanced with simplicity so as not to confuse or overwhelm. The FAA and industry partners are working towards solutions, you and I can help, but for now, sense and avoid paired with common sense operations will have to suffice.

Fly safe!

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