One of Europe's most influential drone policy advisors, Christian Struwe, leaves DJI. Photo: Screenshot BBC

Christian Struwe leaves DJI

One of Europe's most influential drone policy advisors, Christian Struwe, leaves drone maker DJI.
Anders Martinsen

Why are you leaving DJI, Christian?

– I have been with DJI for almost six years, and it’s been a tremendous ride with ups and downs. Mostly ups, to be honest. I have been privileged to be with an industry leader in an industry that is rapidly developing and shaping the rules of how drones are going to be used. That has been the focus of the last six years. But there comes a time when you have to decide what is coming next. Policies work in cycles, and the last cycle has been roughly six or seven years from the initiation of a process to harmonise rules all over Europe to those rules being fully implemented in 2023. The next cycle will be similar. It’s going to take six or seven years until we complete the next cycle with drone taxis, autonomy and these things. It’s a question of when to get off the moving train, and I felt that this was a good moment.

– If you look at the achievements over the last years, moving from roughly 30 different sets of rules and regulations on drones to one body, that is a pretty good accomplishment, says Struwe in the interview. Here is Struwe at Interpol Drone Incursion Exercise at Oslo airport earlier in October 2021.

So is it “mission accomplished” so far?

– Yes, I think so, to be honest. If you look at the achievements over the last years, moving from roughly 30 different sets of rules and regulations on drones to one body, that is a pretty good accomplishment. From an industry perspective, both from DJI’s and drone operators’ point of view, reaching a level where those rules are pragmatic and allow a lot of different operations – that is mission accomplished. 

Looking at your personal achievements, where have you had the most influence?

– What I am probably most proud of, on behalf of both the DJI policy team and myself personally, is the fact that we have very rarely opposed what other stakeholders in the drone industry has proposed. When someone proposes something, we tweak it and twist it and end up compromising. Being able to reach that level of compromise has been a good personal achievement. I take pride in that. 

Has something given you sleepless nights during these six years?

– Other than the endless travelling across different time zones, it’s probably the drone incident at Gatwick in December 2018. No-one really knew what was happening or where it was going to end up. There is still debate about what actually happened, and we will probably never know. 

What was the impact of Gatwick on the drone industry, from your perspective?

– The impact on the drone industry is very visible, in terms of the focus on counter drone technology. The incident itself is more like a bump in the road than something that has had a permanent negative impact. But it did remind us that everyone needs to be aware of the restrictions around airports, and that there is a huge challenge on how to integrate drones around airports.

Drones were highly debated after the Gatwick incident back in December 2018 and Struwe and other drone makers were questioned if drones really was such a good idea after all . Photo: Screenshot

A few years ago, after the change of political administration in the US, the geographical origin of drones was put on the agenda. What has that discussion been like from your perspective? 

– It has been very interesting, to be honest. Geopolitics are interesting, but it has also been a bit strange to see how a company, just because it has a certain country of origin, is automatically tied into a discussion that is largely based on speculation. Let us get the facts on the table and look at what actually poses these kinds of risks that are being alleged across the world. I think a missing piece in the drone regulation is how to handle cyber security and data security. Once you start going down that road, you will see that it’s about a lot more than country of origin. 

Struwe has been a part of the international team for policy advisors at DJI. Here at DJI HQ back in 2016 together with Jon Resnick, Brendan Schulman, James Tomaya. Photo: Private

Has this also been a focus in the European market? 

– The discussion has been brought to the centre of the stage because of political developments in the US. But the issue around how you handle drone data and how you handle using products from a country that isn’t necessarily your ally, has always been there in Europe. Fortunately, most of the public sector users of DJI products in Europe have a very pragmatic approach to their drone use. We always talk about how the drone rules that we have come up with are risk-based. A lot of professional organisations also have a risk-based approach to how they handle drone data. So if you process less sensitive data you can collect that on anything, and as you move into more sensitive data – you move away from consumer products and to something with a higher level of security. My experience is that most people who are using drones across Europe have a very pragmatic approach to that, so it has not really influenced our work in Europe. 

Several people who have been working on the policy side are now looking for new opportunities? Is that a coincidence, or do we not need to work as much on policy anymore?

– I think it is a coincidence, to be honest. Policy is more important than ever. We like to talk about automation and UTM – all the things we will be doing tomorrow, and those rules are being decided now. It’s more important to be engaged than ever. Especially if you are in the smaller drone industry. There are a lot of developments that can influence how you are going to be able to fly a small drone in the future. At the European stage there are the questions of U-space, the next level of EU regulations and how to operate inspection drones, package delivery drones and air taxis in the same airspace. And then it is the matter of public acceptance on top of that. 

So what is next for you, Christian?

– It’s a bit too early to share, but I will have an announcement coming out soon. I am staying in the tech industry and close to unmanned aviation. I will be working in the policy and government relations space, and also on technologies that will really benefit the wider public.

After six years at DJI, what would you like to be written on your memory stone…?

– (Laughs.) “He served the drone industry well.” I hope people will see that what we have accomplished over the past years is in the interest of the whole drone community.