(the following was written for Consortiq)
In September 2016, the game changed. And we’re only now beginning to realise it. That was when DJI released the Mavic Pro. Why was it such an important moment? Because this was the day that drone filming and the world of aviation parted company.
That’s a controversial suggestion of course. The Mavic is subject to the same rules as any other drone. Any professional operator requires an operating permit, in the UK at least. And stories of Mavic owners goading each other to fly as close they can to commercial air traffic confirm that the potential for mid-air collision persists.
So, what’s new? The tech for sure – no one would deny that the physical design and miniaturisation are nothing short of brilliant. But that’s a side issue. The Mavic is the first drone which has the portability and convenience to be considered as ‘just another tool’ in the cameraman’s armoury. And that’s a fact. Just this week a craft cameraman on a big BBC ONE peak-time show contacted our media training consultant. He’s buying a Mavic to keep as an extra weapon in his camera van. Good luck to him Michael said. And this is a show which he’s worked on as a professional operator.
Arguably, the Mavic is taking us to a place where the regulations quickly break. With professional footage now obtainable from such a small and convenient craft, the days of expensive qualifications for all commercial operators, regardless of their aircraft type, need to be numbered. Treating a sub-1kg drone no differently from a 7kg drone is clearly untenable. Writing an original 70-page operations manual for every Mavic pilot is questionable. In short, without regulation reform, the rogue operator will not be containable. EASA has already said as much in its prototype regulations. Brexit throws those into doubt of course, which means the likes of the Mavic and even smaller DJI Spark are likely to force the issue. These machines take us into a world of flying cameras, not video-capturing drones.
So where does the Mavic road take us? The smart money is surely on an industry driven by risk rather than regulation. And there’s one group of people better than most at estimating risk: insurers. The miniaturisation of drones means that in the battle of insurers and regulators, it is surely the insurers who will increasingly be in the driving seat. Attempt to regulate first, and the rule makers will tie themselves in knots, forever behind the curve of technology. Listen to the insurers and, in theory, manufacturers will be driven by fear of ever increasing liabilities to mitigate risks through technological advance.
Embrace the world of risk-led operation with light touch regulation and the Mavic could herald the drone industry’s first big step change. And it’s certainly not to be the last. View our latest industry report here about how drones are paving the way for advancements in the media industry.