Gatwick Airport - (Overdrones - Tony Whitfield)


Is this now the Public vilification of drones in the UK, or at least a caution to those commissioning or undertaking drone work, and an opportunity for professional drone operators to rise above the rogues in the market?

The recent Christmas travel shenanigans at Gatwick Airport caused by ”drone(s),” as well as an incident with a rogue drone flown from the top of the Severn bridge, and further drone flights at Heathrow, has now given authorities and the general Public an even greater awareness – possibly antagonism – towards drones and those who fly them. These incidents just help underscore the need for all involved in the drone industry, especially those who commission drone work, to be aware of the issues and the potential consequences of hiring an operator who ignores the pre-production works (extra costs) necessary to ensure everybody is on-board with the project and for it to be run in a safe manner.

At Overdrones, as a professional drone operating company, we go out of our way to not only adhere to the UK’s Civil Aviation Authorities (CAA) regulations, but to go beyond that and use common sense to inform all stakeholders of what is happening with any drone works to ensure that alarm, threats to personal privacy, or just plain old terrorist attack are not the first things that people think of when they see a drone and operators at work doing something actually useful with a drone.

There are many theories circulating about what actually happened at Gatwick. Was it really a drone? Was it just a plastic bag in the wind? (A previous incident at Heathrow had been a plastic bag). Certainly airports in the UK have just coughed up millions to quickly install military-grade anti-drone technology so there must have been some form of credible threat?

They tried the DJI system to detect the location of the operator, but in the end the RAF were called in and airports are now buying the Rafael (Israeli) company’s “Drone Dome” system – well the “soft-kill” version, rather than the “hard-kill” version with high powered lasers to shoot the bloomin’ things down. Spanish firm Indra Sistemas and its ARMS anti-drone system also sounds interesting as it is able to sense, adapt, and selectively interfere with drones:

“The solution is so effective that it can be used in a precise manner to disable a single drone, in a ‘surgical’ intervention, or a whole swarm of drones, applying more aggressive measures. If an invasion occurs from different points simultaneously, it activates a full protection dome.” (Indra)

If a drone at Gatwick, was it multiple drones or even multiple pilots? Terrorists have certainly honed their ability to use drones as weapons in places like Syria. The gimbal/telemetry/video set-up makes for an ideal bombsight, or just the momentum of a 7Kg drone (guided missile) at fast closing speed would be catastrophic for an aircraft. Some other theories suggest that it may have been some sort of industrial naughtiness as Gatwick Airport was then sold to another operator virtually on the spot. Some say it could also just have been a security services cover to prevent known terrorists landing on a flight that day? It’s also a funny co-incidence that the day before the UK, with the USA, had gone public to accuse China as a Nation of stealing technology secrets. Was this some way of China responding with Chinese drones and pilot agents as a sort of “look what we can do if you start…?” Worth noting also that the USA has just issued a travel warning for its citizens going to China.

We can only rely on the professionalism of our security services and assume what they say is correct. Anyway, regardless of if it were a drone or not, the net effect was the same – mass disruption to our infrastructure.

Interesting also how a local person, known to have a drone but with no other evidence (?), was arrested by the police and vilified in the National Media. Presumably he will sue for wrongful arrest, but it also raises the question of just how vulnerable any drone operator is to this sort of blame – professional or not. Maybe this will help act as a deterrent to those who got a drone for Christmas or just wannabe pro-drone operators who are still thinking of operating a drone for reward.

It must be said that at Overdrones, particularly for any sort of technical survey work, we are always up against clients’ budgets and lack of general awareness about the process to comfortably and safely be able to plan and operate a drone to deliver the results needed. We have quoted for many projects in our time (including at Gatwick – yes we do have to use drones sometimes at aerodromes and other places with air traffic). We are often surprised at the sorts of low-charges other so-called drone operators are charging for their work. We know these rates to be unsustainable, and can’t be including all the elements needed for authorities and neighbour pre-notification of drone works, or ground marshalling, as these obviously are expensive to do – sometimes with extended delivery time-frames.

So this is a plea to prospective clients or those commissioning drone work, to be more aware of, and to make allowance for in project budgets, reasonable costs to ensure safe drone operations with all the stages of pre-notification in place.

The consequences – especially now – of not doing this in the UK are today even more obvious.

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