Chinese drone maker creates no-fly zones around airports in 32 European countries

  • Chinese drone company DJI will roll out a new system to protect airports from drones this month.
  • The upgraded security system will be applied to 32 countries in Europe.
  • It comes after drones disrupted the U.K.’s second-largest airport for three days in December.
A drone is flown for recreational purposes in Syosset, New York.
Bruce Bennett | Getty Images
A drone is flown for recreational purposes in Syosset, New York.

Chinese drone maker DJI will roll out a system in 32 European countries this month to prevent its drones entering airport flightpaths.

The Chinese firm said Tuesday that its state of the art geofencing will be implemented into drones' GPS systems, using complex shapes and three-dimensional "bow tie" zones around runways.

The decision from DJI comes a few months after London's Gatwick airport suffered three days of flight disruption in December after drones were sighted flying in its vicinity. It led to 1,000 flights being cancelled or diverted, with airline easyJet estimating a loss of almost $20 million as a direct result.

DJI will apply its Geospatial Environment Online (GEO) 2.0 system to 19 new countries, as well as the 13 that already had existing geofencing systems in place.

GEO 2.0 will create detailed three-dimensional safety zones around runway flight paths. Drones using DJI software will have the safety zones integrated into their navigational systems and be unable to breach the areas.

The strictest controls – used for highly sensitive airports – will be applied to a 0.75-mile area around runways, as well as three-dimensional areas around flightpaths where planes take off and land.

At less sensitive airports, more flexible geofencing restrictions will be applied.

GEO 2.0 will be phased into DJI's European drones later this month, with the firm asking customers to update their flight control apps and aircraft firmware to ensure the updates are implemented.

Estonia, Croatia and Greece are among the new countries to be added to the system, which already counted Germany, France and the U.K. among its members.

DJI said in a press release on Tuesday that its geofencing safety feature was created following consultations with aviation organizations and will be applied even in locations where regulations are yet to be developed.

The revamped system will also impose temporary flight restrictions during major events or natural disasters, which will be based on data from regulatory body Eurocontrol.

Tech firm Altitude Angel will deliver real-time geospatial data for the geofencing system, replacing DJI's previous European partner AirMap.

"DJI is eager to ensure that safety remains the top priority as the European drone industry innovates new ways to use drones in exciting and productive ways. Introducing state-of-the-art safety features in even more countries will help the general public and drone operators alike," said Christian Struwe, DJI's head of policy, EMEA.