Designated Event Organizer: What You Need to Know About the Drone Racing League

  • Ryan Harden
Featured Image courtesy of the Drone Racing League

Recently, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced that the Drone Racing League as the first unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) event organizer.  Wow!  That’s a lot of acronyms, but what does it mean?

Well, let’s break it down.

First, we know that the Drone Racing League is one of the world’s better-known professional drone racing event.

Second, the Drone Racing League has to adhere to specific safety standards as a drone racing entity. Specifically, this means that the Drone Racing League will need to work with the FAA’s Partnership for Safety Plan (PSP) Program to create safety protocols.

These standardized operating procedures will set forth guidelines on how people and organizations must conduct themselves when UAS demonstrations are on-going. In particular, the greatest safety concern is operating in front of a live audience, or holding an air show in which people are nearby – because neither the DRL or FAA want anyone to get hurt. 

In order to meet the most stringent safety requirements, the DRL will have to work hand-in-hand with the FAA to determine which safety procedures should be implemented.

Further, understanding the underlying technology is crucial to knowing how a type of drone may act if, say, it hits a wall and the debris shatters everywhere. Fallout pattern analysis could prove insightful. And, nothing could be worse for a sponsor when millions of fans watch the show and see someone get injured, especially if it was in any way preventable. Also, since locations near landmark settings are used, it would be catastrophic for the Drone Racing League or sponsors to see something historic get damaged.

This new partnership shouldn’t come as a shock to insiders. Those who followed the Drone Racing League since 2016 would note that the White House’s Office of Science and Technology had previously ordered something similar. Standardized flying protocols, how to maintain community safety, and how to best disseminate those standards are questions that have floated in the DRL community for a few years. Similarly, the Commercial Drone Alliance, which also focuses on safety, has pioneered aspects of responsible drone integration – in ways outlined above. 

When asked for comments, the DRL Chief Operating Officer, Ashley Ellefson said “We’re honored the FAA has accredited DRL as the first UAS event organization and we’re excited to participate in the FAA’s PSP program to ensure safety is the priority at all UAS events. We look forward to sharing our expertise in drone-event safety more widely with the industry and continuing to work with venue organizers to curate safe and spectacular drone racing experiences through the most unique and incredible spaces.” 

While there is a lot to unpack in the quote, the main takeaway readers should know is that safety will be a priority at all UAS events. And, we know the industry is just getting started. Who do you think will be the next body that gets accredited by the FAA?


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