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DJI Joins Memphis Pilot Program, Becomes Official UAS IPP Partner

BY Zacc Dukowitz
11 December 2019

Consumer drone giant DJI recently joined the U.S. Department of Transportation’s UAS IPP (UAS Integration Pilot Program) by partnering with the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority’s ongoing pilot program (MSCAA ).

Photo credit: DJI

As partners, DJI drones will be used at the airport for:

  • FedEx aircraft inspections
  • FedEx aircraft part deliveries (both day and night operations)
  • Airport perimeter security

Memphis International Airport and its partners continue to explore how drones can be safely and effectively utilized in our airspace. We are excited to add to our already strong team of partners in this venture.

Scott Brockman, MSCAA President and CEO

The Memphis IPP’s other partners are the City of Memphis, the Memphis Fire Department, the Tennessee Department of Transportation Division of Aeronautics, FedEx, Agricenter International, GEO subsidiaries AirXOS and Avitas, 901 Drones, and Forever Ready Productions.

A Year and a Half Late

When the Department of Transportation first announced the ten programs selected for the UAS IPP, industry heavyweight DJI was conspicuously absent from the list of winners. (Amazon wasn’t picked either.)

Their omission from the program wasn’t all that surprising, given the ongoing trust issues the U.S. government has had with Chinese-owned DJI.

[Related reading: How to Make Sure Your DJI Drone Isn’t Sharing Your Data]

The fact that DJI is now being allowed to partner with the Memphis program could signal that some of those concerns have subsided. But we doubt it, given how persistently they have been voiced by the Department of Homeland Security and others over the last few years.

It seems more likely that the Memphis program is in need of resources, and DJI was happy for the opportunity to become an official IPP partner—even if it is a year and a half late.

Image source

One thing that’s curious is that DJI hasn’t called a lot of attention to the new partnership. The press release that prompted us to write this story was issued by the MSCAA on their website. DJI doesn’t have any press release up on their press page about the partnership, and it doesn’t seem like they are talking about it at all.

Why the silence?

Maybe they don’t want to remind everyone that they didn’t get picked the first time, or maybe they don’t want to deal with another wave of articles about security concerns.

Your guess is as good as ours. But given the amount of hype that usually surrounds any kind of DJI-related news, the quiet doesn’t seem accidental.

What Is the UAS IPP?

Here is how the FAA describes the UAS IPP’s primary objectives on their website:

The program is helping the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) craft new rules that support more complex low-altitude operations by:

  • Identifying ways to balance local and national interests related to drone integration
  • Improving communications with local, state and tribal jurisdictions
  • Addressing security and privacy risks
  • Accelerating the approval of operations that currently require special authorizations

As we see it, the UAS IPP was created with two interconnected goals:

  • 1) To test drone operations currently prohibited by the FAA’s Part 107 rules (like flying BVLOS or over people) so they can ultimately become more mainstream
  • 2) To bring authorities at the state and local levels into the conversation around shaping drone policy, and ultimately find a way for local and federal drone regulations to work side-by-side instead of existing in conflict

The testing proposed in the first goal is being done by programs created by those state and local authorities that the FAA wants to involve in policy-making, thus achieving the second goal.

So far, the IPP has been incredibly successful with the first goal. Over the last year, we’ve seen several first-of-their-kind waivers and permissions issued by the FAA to IPP partners.

As for the second goal, it’s a little too early to say.

Tensions between federal and state/local authorities around drone regulations have been mounting over the last few years, with more and more local governments creating laws that contradict federal law. Though the IPP may well lead to solutions for this tension, the process is sure to be long and will probably vary from one locality to another.

Wondering where the different IPPs are located throughout the U.S.? Here’s a map showing the location of each of the ten pilot programs:


About the Memphis UAS IPP

The Memphis IPP’s proposal emphasizes a focus on aircraft inspections and security, which are the two primary tasks for which DJI drones will be used.

Here’s a list of drone operations included in the Memphis program, taken from the MSCAA IPP proposal:

  • Aircraft Inspections: Inspection of commercial aircraft on FedEx ramp during day and night operations
  • Airport Security Fence Inspections: Inspection of perimeter security fence and dispatched response for alarm resolution
  • Security Patrols of FedEx Ramp: Security monitoring of FedEx ramp during day and night operations
  • Perimeter Security Monitoring: Protecting logistics warehouses against intruders and fighting cargo theft

To date, the MSCAA has been quite active.

Since launching, over half a dozen test flights and demonstrations have been conducted by the MSCAA IPP and its partners. Learn more about these activities on this page on the Memphis International Airport’s website.

What do you think about DJI joining the UAS IPP, and why they might not have issued their own press release announcing the partnership? Share your thoughts in this thread on the UAV Coach community forum.

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