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$145,000 Bounty Offered by DJI to Identify Flight-Disrupting Drone Pilots

BY Zacc Dukowitz
28 April 2017

Drone juggernaut DJI recently announced on their website that they’ll be offering a bounty of up to 1 million yuan, or $145,000, for information related to several drone incidents at an airport in southwestern China’s Sichuan province.

On April 14, 17, 18, and 21, drones flying near Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport interrupted more than 100 flights, causing them to make unscheduled landings or returns, and affecting over 10,000 passengers.

That’s a lot of angry people.

These incidents indicate a growing trend in China. Since the start of the year there have been more than 15 cases of drones flying near airports or aircraft, and last year there were 23 such incidents recorded throughout China. There were only four in 2015.

The huge amount of the reward represents a show of good faith on the part of DJI, in an effort to demonstrate that it doesn’t condone, and in fact is strongly against, the kind of reckless flying that led to these delays. A DJI spokesperson (quoted below) has acknowledged that the drones used at the airport were DJI products.

“We hope to help the police solve these cases as soon as possible, to clear up the unnecessary misunderstanding about the [drone] industry.”

– Wang Fan, Director of Public Relations, DJI

What happened at the Chengdu Shuangliu airpot highlights the real need for airports everywhere to develop Unmanned Traffic Systems (UTMs), or some other method of controlling rogue drones. The FAA’s Pathfinder Program has a UAS Detection Initiative underway to develop comprehensive systems for preventing rogue drones from flying near airports, using UTMs and other approaches—it seems like the time is now to start implementing things like this.

For our part, we’re grateful no planes were actually taken down by the rogue drones, and that the worst outcome of this was grounded planes, not crashed planes.

No-Drone Zones

DJI drones are supposed to come equipped with settings that prevent them from being flown in no-drone zones—forbidden areas near airports and other restricted airspace. DJI drones are also supposed to have restrictions built in that prevent them from flying too high near airports.

But clearly these settings didn’t prevent DJI drones from flying near the Chengdu Shuangliu airport.

Because of this fact, DJI initially stated that the drones involved couldn’t have been theirs.

However, after checking the drones’ altitude and location, and consulting with a partner company’s live monitoring data from the days in question, DJI acknowledged that it did seem to be their drones that had made the hazardous flights, but claimed that a third party app must have been used to override the no-fly zone settings.

It probably helped that photos taken at the airport, which were later released by the police, were used by industry experts to identify the drones as DJI products.

What’s Next?

Police have detained two men for five days each in connection with the hazardous flights, but no further news has been released about whether they were in fact the men being sought.

The reward will be offered from now until December 31st. With the promise of possibly getting $145,000, a whole lot of information is sure to flow in.

We’ll be curious to see if anyone actually gets busted.

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