Tackling wildfires with drones – operating safely

Wildfires are a real threat and while drones undoubtedly have a role to play in monitoring and assisting with fire, unauthorized drone use near fire is dangerous. It poses a hazard to firefighting airplanes and helicopters. In some cases they have forced firefighting operations to be suspended. These occurrences have been picked up by the mainstream press and have hampered efforts to show drones in a positive light.

Drone Lawyer Peter Sachs on the safe use of drones with fire at the launch of the DJI Phantom 3. Picture by Brendan Schulman

With over 300 new wildfires are recorded each day by the US Department of the Interior during summer fire season – and over 500 new fires on the busiest days – improper use is not something to be taken lightly.
DJI has partnered with AirMap to add real-time wildfire alerts to their geofencing data. This is intended to keep unauthorized drones from interfering with firefighting operations.

AirMap’s new wildfire alerts help drone pilots understand hazards and restrictions near them when deciding whether it is safe to fly. Information comes from the U.S. Department of the Interior’s incident command system. This is immediately sent to drone pilots using the DJI GO flight control app.

Data is more up to date and includes more active wildfires than found in Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFR) published by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Most wildfires start and spread faster than the time it takes to communicate and post the hazard as a TFR. Often, fires are extinguished before the TFR is issued, and in approximately half of those cases, the fires have been fought by specialized airplanes and helicopters.

Ben Marcus, CEO of AirMap, states “AirMap delivers dynamic airspace intelligence to unmanned aircraft in order to provide the safest operating environment possible. Through our partnership with DJI and other drone manufacturers and application developers, more than 70 percent of the drones operated in the United States now benefit from wildfire information in real time.”

“DJI wants to equip its customers with safety-critical information that will help our first responders, whether or not a TFR has been issued,” said Brendan Schulman, DJI Vice President of Policy and Legal Affairs. “This enhancement to GEO will help prevent DJI drones from inadvertently taking off within, or flying into, a wildfire location without authorization.”