DJI is offering huge cash reward in bid to solve an airport drone mystery

dji cash reward drone plane
Jagcz/123RF

With drone ownership skyrocketing in the last couple of years, it seems sadly inevitable that there’s always going to be a few ne’er-do-wells getting kicks out of flying their machines in places where they really shouldn’t.

Airports spring to mind, and for the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) the troubling issue of rogue drones flying close to planes is a growing one.

The most recent FAA data, collected between February and September 2016, listed 1,274 possible drone sightings by U.S. air traffic facilities, compared to 874 for the same period a year earlier.

But the problem isn’t confined to the U.S. Pretty much any airport in the world faces the same danger from rogue drones, with one unlucky hub in China currently experiencing a string of illegal incursions. Indeed, the airport has been so badly affected that drone giant DJI has stepped in with the offer of a cash reward of up to 1 million yuan (about $145,000) to help catch those responsible.

Across four days in April spanning one week, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) disrupted multiple flights — 60 on one particular day — at Chengdu Shuangliu International, 950 miles southwest of Beijing, the BBC reported.

While it’s not clear if the authorities have proof that the flying machines are made by DJI, the Shenzhen-based company evidently feels compelled to help catch those behind the rogue flights. DJI said in a statement that flying a UAV close to an airport threatened public safety while also damaging the reputation of the consumer drone industry. A machine translation of the statement goes so far as to describe the illegal flights as “acts of evil.”

DJI includes software with its drones that prevents pilots from operating them inside restricted zones, so if the drones flying near the airport are indeed made by the company then the owner has clearly overridden these restrictions.

Such incidents have prompted a slew of companies to develop their own hardware solutions to bring down rogue drones and include everything from net-firing bazookas to electromagnetic defense shields. In the Netherlands, they’ve even trained eagles to pluck the flying machines out of the sky.