We researched the issue earlier this year because we wanted to quantify what drone operators already know intuitively: drones are very safe. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) proposed a rule for identifying airborne drones that we worried would be too costly and complicated to be successful; we suspected those burdens were far out of proportion to the risk posed by drones.
DJI already knew that anecdotal evidence about drone safety was unreliable. Last year we released our “Elevating Safety” report, which methodically reviewed the available evidence about drones supposedly experiencing collisions or near-misses with airplanes and helicopters. Our study showed that most “drone sightings” – and even “drone collisions” – involve birds, bats, balloons, or nothing at all.
But there’s no substitute for data. And we had some available.
When you fly a DJI drone using the DJI GO or DJI GO 4 flight control apps, you have full control over your flight log and image data, but also have the option to anonymously share basic user experience data with us, so we can understand how our customers use our products and how we can improve them – similar to what many tech companies do. Only about 35% of our users choose to do that, but that’s enough to draw some conclusions:
- In the United States in 2019, the users who chose to share data with us conducted 9,632,454 flights, averaging 7.1 minutes each.
- Extrapolating from that 35 percent to our entire user base on DJI GO and DJI GO 4, we estimate they flew 27.5 million flights.
- But that’s not all – we conservatively estimated that about 15% of DJI drone pilots use other flight control apps, whether from us (like DJI Fly, DJI Pilot and DJI Flight Hub) or from our software development kit partners such as Drone Deploy and Measure. Adjusting for that factor, we estimate DJI drones flew 31.6 million flights in the US last year.
- Plenty of people fly drones from other manufacturers; the FAA says DJI products comprise only 36% of America’s drone fleet. Taking that into account implies there were 87.8 million drone flights in the U.S. in 2019.
- And if each of those flights averaged 7.1 minutes, like the DJI user experience data showed, that’s a combined 10.3 million hours of drone flight.
You can see these calculations in more detail on pages 5-9 of DJI’s comments to the FAA, which are the first download available at this link, but those numbers may be low. An FAA report released later in 2020 surveyed drone pilots and concluded that U.S. recreational pilots alone flew 1.5 million hours per month, or 18 million hours per year.
Whichever figure is more representative, the significance is still the same – in more than 10 million flight hours, not a single person died from a drone flight. Unlike other forms of aviation, the accidental fatality rate for drones is zero. Here’s how DJI put it:
“This makes UAS unquestionably the safest form of aviation the world has ever known. By comparison, in the United States, general aviation experiences a fatal accident rate of 1.029 fatal accidents per 100,000 flight hours. Although reducing accidents to zero is always the aspiration, the GA accident rate is deemed an ‘acceptable’ level of safety, with no calls for tightening regulations from the public, Congress, or regulators that we have seen. If small UAS were to have such an accident rate, representing an ‘equivalent’ level of safety as general aviation, there would be 103 fatal drone accidents each year. There are zero.”
As we noted in “Elevating Safety,” drones are safe – and we keep making them safer. At DJI, we have revised our GPS-based geofencing zones to keep drones away from airport runway approach paths (not just the airports themselves). We have put distance warnings in our drone control apps so pilots are aware when their drones may be flying too far away. And this year we have started installing AirSense receivers in new drone models weighing more than 250 grams, which pick up ADS-B signals from airplanes and helicopters to warn drone pilots if any are approaching, so the drone can be moved out of the way.
The number of drones in the world continues to grow, and it’s heartening that our data analysis shows they remain a safe addition to the skies. As regulators move forward with rules for remote identification of airborne drones, as well as routine flights at night and over people, this safety record shows why new rules should not pose unreasonable costs, burdens or hassles for drone pilots. Drones are safe, and they should be treated that way.
VP of Policy & Legal Affairs at DJI
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