Gatwick Airport closed by rogue drone flights

Flights in and out of London’s second-busiest airport were halted after drones were spotted flying illegally nearby in what was described as an act meant to intentionally disrupt travel.

Source: Gatwick Airport Closed After Drone Flights That Officials Call ‘Deliberate’ – The New York Times

The British government described the overflights as deliberate and being conducted by “industrial” drones, not hobbyist quadcopters.

Update: latest development is that two unnamed people have been detained and the police have suggested “eco-warriors” were behind shutting down the airport, as part of opposition to airport expansion plans.

 

She said the amount of time the drone had been above the airport supported the idea that it was being flown there deliberately. “This very much points to this being planned and not just some rogue hobbyist,” she said.

The weather at the time was windy and rainy. Small consumer quadcopters are not usually water proof and can have difficulty in winds over 10 mph. (Similar to most consumer cameras, they will likely fail due to water ingress.) Further, consumer quadcopters generally have a useful battery life in the 10 to 20 minute range.

Yesterday a Guardian journalists said on Twitter. “Considering the public safety danger of drones, why should any be permitted to have one for any use other than business?”

(Change the word “drones” to “cars” or “trucks” or “knives” and see if you can see a problem with that line of thinking.)

Separately, much of the public is now saying things like this comment appearing in the NY Times:

Some Members of Parliament are calling for strict new regulations on the use of model aircraft.

The PR damage is immense and likely insurmountable. From social media comments, people are calling for the ban of all model aircraft. Yet this operation over Gatwick was already in violation of current law.

A ban will not happen but expect governments to enact a strict (and potentially expensive) regulatory environment that will create so many hurdles to flight as to be a de facto ban on many recreational operations. As I have written previously, expect the following:

  • Model aircraft will be permitted to fly at certified model airfields, possibly license free – and possibly restricted to age 16 or older.
  • Home built model aircraft will be required to be “certified” after an inspection similar to how home built aircraft are certified by a volunteer designee of an organization and will be required to meet specific design criteria.
  • Flight conducted outside of certified model airfields will require the operator to be licensed. Here in the U.S. this will require either the Part 107 Remote Pilot’s license or an as-yet-to-be developed Remote Recreational Pilot’s license, including passage of an exam and Department of Homeland Security background check.
  • A fee will be charged for the operator license and the background check.
  • Flights conducted outside model airfields will require each device to have an on board radio transponder or other mechanism for tracking and remote identification.
  • A fee will be charged for air traffic control services. This fee, combined with the background check cost, may be so high that it de facto bans most people from flying model aircraft at other than model airfields. It is possible that flights in Class G airspace will remain exempt from the air traffic service fee; however, transponders will likely still be required.
  • All commercially built model aircraft weighing more than 8 ounces (250 grams) will be required to have on board GPS and geofencing built in to prohibit flight within some number of miles of airports. But note there need to be ways to override this – for example, drones are used to conduct power line and roof inspections and these will, from time to time, need to be done, with permission, within the radius of airports. Of course, it may be that only “large” and expensive drones will allow override capability, thereby priced out of access by regular consumers. Additionally, there will be commercially operated package delivery drones within these areas.
  • Retailers of commercially-built drones will be required to log drone sales with the government, including the identification of the buyer.
  • All commercially built drones, and possibly certified home builts, may require control links that can be overridden by police or other government authorities to remotely take control of an errant flight. This would likely render existing control transmitters obsolete and require their replacement at great cost.
  • Police will routinely stop and ask drone pilots to see their license and aircraft certification paper work, and will log their contact with you in their criminal database.

None of this will stop a terrorist or anyone else inclined to cause mayhem. It will, however, dramatically reduce the number of recreational quadcopters in flight.

Separately, a week earlier a collapsed nose cone on an Aeromexico plane that landed at Tijuana Airport was blamed by the media as caused by a collision with a drone. The media made up that conclusion – no one involved in the investigation has made that claim. This web page has photos of about 30 collapsed nose cones, many of which look identical – but which did not involve a drone. From expert commentary on that page, there are numerous causes of collapsed nose cones including bird strikes (often leaving no blood or feathers behind), weather phenomena including hail, rain and wind, and structural failures of the non-metallic nose cone.

The public’s limited understanding of aviation causes them to jump to conclusions based on what they think they know – to them, everything looks like a quadcopter because they are unaware of other options. (In propaganda theory this is known as “What You See Is All There Is”.) As one airline pilot said in a newspaper comments section, it is amusing to see how many non-experts had become experts on social media. (For the record, while I am not an active pilot now, I do have a pilot’s license and have been around aviation since age 20. I have 5 quadcopters and 2 fixed wing model aircraft, belong to the EAA, AMA and my local flying club.)

Today’s 80+ year old model aircraft hobby, with a spectacular safety record is threatened to be regulated out of existence – depending on how nutty the politicians and regulators choose to act.

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