Category Archives for "Civilian Drones"
Was the drone footage of migrants camped on the Greece/Macedonia border a bad example from the BBC?
Right now there is a daily debate about the public use of drones; where and when they can fly, who can fly them, what is safe. Of course the UK CAA has published some easy to follow guidance in their Drone Code and if everyone stuck to it there would be less of an issue. But non-professional hobby drone fliers may not even be aware of the guidance or if they are they may not properly understand it all, so they might take their lead from what they see on TV. Which brings me to the BBC.
On Tuesday March 8th the BBC’s reporter was in the ever growing migrant/refugee encampment on the Greek side of the border with Macedonia. As he talked the video cut to some drone footage showing the appalling conditions and the sheer size of the camp – so far, so good (or so bad in fact…). Then the drone was clearly flown right over the camp and the thousands of people in it. Under the CAA rules this would not be permitted – surely this was an organised gathering of more than 1,000 people?
The CAA has no jurisdiction in Greece but this seems to set a very public example of breaching the UK rules.
As the debate about drones and potential privacy issues continues to heat up we are seeing an increasing array of anti drone kit on the market. These two popped up on my twitter feed just today. DroneShield which seems to be some kind of radio frequency (RF) detection and interference system, using ground based antennae. And rather more bizarrely Skywall 100, an enormous shoulder mounted, net firing bazooka!
Now I am sure there have been some gross invasions of privacy using camera equipped drones and I understand the commercial issues around industrial espionage. But in the UK at least, no-one owns the airspace above their land. So long as the drone is operated at the required distance from people, structures, vehicles etc. then I don’t see what right anyone would have, however indignant they were, to shoot down a drone.
The UK also has regulations around filming enshrined in the Information Commissioner’s CCTV Code but these did not envisage mobile airborne cameras so there is nothing in there about ‘netting’ offending equipment.
There is a clear need for security and enforcement agencies to be able to combat threatening drones – the Dutch are trying out birds of prey – but let’s hope that there is not a proliferation of random attacks on drones which are operating in accordance with the law. How to be sure of that? Always hire an operator who holds the correct CAA Permit for Aerial Work.
Drone near-misses with passenger aircraft are in the news today. The British pilots’ union BALPA is calling for trials to determine what damage a typical 1.5 kg drone would do if it collided with an aircraft in flight. This is on the back of 23 reported near-misses in UK airspace, including some at London’s flagship Heathrow Airport. See the BBC’s piece at BBC NEWS .
As a professional pilot with 30 years’ experience I think they might be overstating the case a little bit. I don’t disagree for a moment that impact with a 1.5 kg machine, incorporating a chunk of LiPo battery, at 150 knots plus is likely to cause some significant damage. It is the probability of the impact that seems pretty low to me, and probability is the other half of the risk equation.
If you take the number of drones in operation and subtract from that all of the platforms that are operated sensibly and safely away from aircraft, the figure will be very small. Compare that to the number of birds in the sky at any one time and it becomes tiny – and bird strikes are not that common in most places. And even if someone tried to deliberately fly a drone into an aircraft, there is no guarantee of success. As a drone pilot I know it wouldn’t be that easy.
Bottom line? Let’s have a sensible and reasoned debate about this but in the meantime the concern highlights the need to use competent and qualified drone operators for your aerial imaging needs.