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Drone Racing League now an FAA-approved drone event organizer

Professional drone racing’s premier league gets first-of-its-kind accreditation

The Drone Racing League will help the FAA set safety standards for air shows, drone delivery pilots and other public demonstrations (Photo: Drone Racing League)

Drone delivery technology has accomplished some incredible things in 2021, delivering everything from hot wings to 3D-printed organs. Drones are already capable of piloting themselves, flying hundreds of miles on a single charge and navigating landscapes from the cities to the suburbs and everywhere in between.

So … why hasn’t drone delivery taken off? The easy answer is that FAA regulations in the United States are currently tighter than those in countries like Ireland, Canada, Uganda and Rwanda.

But the better answer, and the FAA’s answer, would be safety. The agency has slowly liberalized its own rules over the years, most recently adding two provisions in April that enabled operations over people and at night, but flights still cannot travel beyond the visual line of sight (BVLOS), which is hampering the growth of drone delivery services. The FAA did establish a BVLOS operations Advisory Rulemaking Committee this year, but so far no policy has emerged from that group.

This week, though, drone delivery’s prospects received a boost when it was announced that the FAA would accredit the Drone Racing League (DRL), the top professional league for drone racing, as the nation’s first unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) event organizer. DRL will also become the seventh member of the FAA’s Partnership for Safety Plan (PSP), which is seeking to establish standardized safety protocols for drone operations in the U.S.

With a first-of-its-kind accreditation in tow, DRL will essentially serve as the FAA’s overseer for drone events, which can be anything from air shows to recreational demonstrations to ground-based displays with live audiences. DRL will help the FAA make these events as safe as possible by evaluating safety protocols and technology, creating and enforcing official drone event safety guidelines, and educating the wider drone community on safe practices.

“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,” said DRL COO Ashley Ellefson. “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.”

Read: Is drone racing the next bastion of innovation?

Read: DroneDek latest to call for looser federal drone regulations

Making the spectacular safe is nothing new for DRL. In 2016, the league worked with the White House Office of Science and Technology to develop standardized safety protocols for the entire drone racing community, and it’s also a member of the Commercial Drone Alliance, a trade organization focused on improving drone safety in order to support drones’ integration into U.S. skies.

At its own events, DRL takes safety seriously, employing tech-controls that can halt drones midflight, netting to protect pilots and onlookers, and strict course closures to keep people as far as possible from potential hazards.

DRL will also be signing on as the newest member of the FAA’s PSP, joining partners like Amazon Prime Air, UPS Flight Forward Inc. and Wing, the drone delivery arm of Alphabet. As a PSP partner, the league will provide the FAA with mutually beneficial data that will inform the government agency’s rulemaking and standards for drones.

DRL will continue to educate the public on drone safety through methods such as speaking on drone safety panels, creating informative video series on social media and even playing video games –– the DRL SIM game is designed to help players learn about drone safety and is available on Xbox, Playstation, Steam and Epic Games.

This isn’t DRL’s first move to accelerate the commercialization of drone delivery. Just last month, it brought on drone company Draganfly (NASDAQ: DPRO) to create DRL Labs, which the two hope will act as a testing ground for new innovations in drone safety. Through that partnership, DRL will test things like AI, automation, vital intelligence sensors and sense-and-avoid technology.

But now, with FAA accreditation as a UAS event organizer, DRL can bring some of those innovations into the public eye. By establishing this new position, the FAA has signaled that it wants to run more drone pilots, demonstrations and events around people, a step that brings drone delivery closer to reality.

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Jack Daleo

Jack Daleo is a staff writer for Flying Magazine covering advanced air mobility, including everything from drones to unmanned aircraft systems to space travel — and a whole lot more. He spent close to two years reporting on drone delivery for FreightWaves, covering the biggest news and developments in the space and connecting with industry executives and experts. Jack is also a basketball aficionado, a frequent traveler and a lover of all things logistics.