Stop droning on and shoot em down – er…no!

All of a sudden it seems that a week doesn’t go by without someone mentioning a ‘rogue drone’ buzzing around an airport, causing a runway lock-down and frustration to 1,000’s of the travelling public.

The good news is that the rules applicable to drones are under scrutiny again (they were last updated in July 2018) and no-fly zones are expected to be extended from the current 1km to a 5km from the boundary of a protected aerodrome. But, why can’t we just deal with these little critters? The Police or Army could surely just step in and just shoot them down? And, what’s the point of having no-fly zone, even if it does get extended, if the pilot can’t be traced? After a bit of digging around, the answers are pretty simple.

The Government seems to have at least part of the problem catered for from November 30th 2019 with the July 2018 Civil Aviation Authority Air Navigation (Amendment) Order 2018. Drone operators (remote pilot or SUA – Small Unmanned Aircraft operator) will have to register their device with the CAA and take an online safety test – failure to do so could end the SUA up in hot water with a £1000 fine. The CAA recently ran a consultation on how people currently use drones, this is now closed and a useful PDF for SUA’s use can be downloaded from https://dronesafe.uk/drone-code/. By and large the majority of drone users will likely use their equipment sensibly, but if they don’t then there is a price to pay. The Police will be authorised to issue a fixed penalty notice up to £100 for minor drone offences. These include[i]:

  • Not producing registration documentation, and/or proof of registration for drones between 250g and up to and including 20kg in mass, at the request of a police constable
  • Not producing evidence of any other relevant permissions required by legislation, for example if you are a commercial drone operator or have an exemption from the CAA from an ANO 2016 article
  • Not complying with a police officer when instructed to land a drone
  • Flying a drone without a valid acknowledgement of competency, or failure to provide evidence of meeting this competency requirement when requested

Perhaps a more interesting departure from the legal ramifications of ‘inappropriate droning’ is the potential for geofencing technology to be manufactured into the drones. This technology would use GPS coordindates to stop devices from entering no-fly zones. This technology could quickly put pay to the airport difficulties of recent times. It also already exists with many products that automatically shut down and land/return to the control module when within certain airspaces.

I am sure I was not alone shouting at the BBC News when the drone news broke – why can’t we just shoot them down? In short, stray bullets can kill – and you might need a lot of them to hit a small moving target. In February 2018 Jane’s International Defence Review  Report says the U.S army was said to have requested expeditionary and mobile systems to counter “low, slow and small” UAS’s (Unmanned Aircraft Systems) . David Hambling writes on Forces Network: “A bullet fired at a target in the air will land somewhere, and while it is much less lethal than at shorter ranges, even a 5.56mm bullet retains enough energy to cause injury a mile away.” It stands to reason that what goes up must come down and the chances of a bullet hitting a vehicle, person or another object is pretty high in built up areas.

There’s a neat short video on the Forces Network which explains why it’s unsafe, no surprises in there, but for the more tech savvy reader, the technologies that can safely be put to good use are varied. It was reported in Globes, Israel’s Business Arena that the Drome Dome System from Rafael an Israeli advanced defense systems provider is now in place at Gatwick and I am sure orders for other airports will follow. Drone Dome is an interception system that uses a laser beam in order to locate and destroy hostile drones. It was the first anti-drome weapon on the market (June 2017) capable of intercepting drones at a range of several kilometers. It’s radar-based system identifies, neutralizes and destroys the drone using laser technology. It also has a jamming system for disrupting communications between the user and the drone, but says Hambling: “Some military drones can already be operated in ‘jam proof’ mode, flying a pre-programmed flight path and using navigation systems which do not rely on a satellite signal”.

Hopefully the new regulations will help to reduce the impact of drones at airports across the globe and we will continue to learn from the military which is clearly leading the way in civilian protection equipment.

[i] https://www.trustedreviews.com/news/uk-drone-laws-2019-3146402

 

 

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