Public, Private Venture Aims to Keep Drones Out of Wildfire Areas

The U.S. Department of the Interior announced a partnership with drone makers to keep the unmanned systems out of hazardous wildfire areas.

by / July 26, 2016
A drone flying over a wildfire. Bureau of Land Management

The U.S. Department of the Interior is piloting a project aimed at keeping hobby drones, also known as unmanned aerial systems (UASs), out of the flightpaths of firefighting planes.

In the last couple of years, UASs have caused a number of groundings, delays and near misses with firefighting aircraft in wildfire areas — delays that can cause wildfires to grow exponentially while drone operators are located and stopped. Hobbyists trying to capture pictures and video are often behind the remote controls.

The pilot project, announced July 25, will leverage technology developed in conjunction with industry partner and drone maker DJI, as well as airspace intelligence and navigation providers AirMap and Skyward. The tools will provide drone pilots with real-time alerts and geofencing alarms to alert users when they are flying in restricted flight areas.

“This pilot project makes initial wildfire location data publicly available to commercial mapping providers that support UAS operations, alerting drone pilots before they enter air space over an active wildland fire,” said Mark Bathrick, the director of Interior’s Office of Aviation Services. “No responsible drone operator wants to endanger the lives of the men and women who work to protect them, and we believe this program, which uses the global positioning system to create a virtual barrier, will move us one step closer to eliminating this problem for wildfire managers.”

Information obtained from the Interior’s Integrated Reporting Wildland-Fire Information program is fed directly to AirMap and Skyward, who push the information through mobile and Web applications to drone users.

According to statistics provided by the U.S. Department of the Interior, more than 30,000 wildfires have burned upward of 2.7 million acres this year alone. More than 15 drone intrusions have delayed firefighting efforts in seven states.

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