Attack of the drones
PUBLISHED: 20:01 25 December 2018
Drones have been in our skies for some time but are they out of control? Should we be worried, wonders Lynne Mortimer.
Early in 2018 there was an email circulating our neighbourhood group about a drone (a small, remotely controlled aircraft) being spotted flying quite low over gardens in the vicinity.
The suggestion from one neighbour was that this was an estate agent’s drone. Apparently, they take pictures of properties that are on the market to go in the sales pack. It seemed a reasonable explanation and not at all worrying.
Aerial pictures that used to be taken from planes are now, quite often, snapped by drones and there has even been talk of people’s online deliveries being dropped off by drones.
Rather more sinister have been reports that drones have been getting too close to airborne passenger flights, flying higher than permitted.
2018 has been Year of the Drone in the UK. In East Anglia, the use of these unmanned flight machines has become, if not an every day occurrence, almost commonplace. Indeed, Suffolk Constabulary officially launched it’s own drones in February 2018.
Based at Woodbridge, the drones were to be employed to provide aerial surveillance “to support emergency services and voluntary organisations across a wide range of incidents” including large-scale open fires or complex structural fires; urban area search and rescue; major incident or disaster response; investigative support; road traffic accidents; and missing persons searches.
The drone, therefore has the potential to be wonderfully helpful to our stretched emergency services and, being able to survey from above to find missing people, it may well save lives.
On the other hand, as we have seen over the last week, drones can wreak havoc by interfering in the air space over airports. (Rumours that there were no drones and that the sightings were hoaxes have not, at time of writing, been substantiated.)
It looks as if we have good drones and bad drones... although it is the intentions of the operator that dictate whether they are benign or malign so perhaps we should say good droners and bad droners.
One of the things that has bemused the British public, I believe, is that the person or people responsible for causing the chaos at Gatwick, remain unidentified and, I presume, unconcerned by the misery they have inflicted. Children promised a trip to see Father Christmas in Lapland, family members unable to get to weddings... whatever could prompt such heartlessness? And the other burning question is, how come the perpetrators of this sickening prank or cynical disruption were able to get away with it?
There is a drone exclusion zone of one kilometre around airports, which was introduced in July but, I understand, there was a strong argument that this should have been 5km.
Also difficult to comprehend is the apparent inability to bring down the offending drones. There was a report that a football spectator in Argentina threw a toilet roll at a drone during a match and caused it to fall. The drone was filming the crowd in the stadium at a promotion play-off match when it was hit. Footage of the incident shows the roll whizzing through the air before directly hitting the drone, causing it to spin out of control and crash down to the ground.
In the light of what appeared to be inaction at the airport, you can’t help thinking an accurately deployed roll of loo paper might have been the answer at Gatwick. Or maybe, like Robot Wars, a combatant drone that can take out a encroaching stranger drone.
The rules governing the use of drones are, in my view, a bit woolly. If you’re planning on using your drone strictly as a hobby, a drone licence is not required as long as you follow the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) regulations. Commercial operators have the same height constraint as other drone users but have to acquire permission and observe additional requirements. Permission? That doesn’t sound very rigorous.
The CAA website confirms it is illegal to fly a drone over 400ft. Putting 400ft into some sort of context, the Great Pyramid of Giza is 430ft; the Blackpool Tower is 518ft; St Paul’s Cathedral is 365 ft and 400ft isn’t even half as high as the Shard, in London. But this is much higher than any building in Ipswich − Cranfield Mill on the Waterfront stands highest at 233 ft. In Norwich, the cathedral spire is 315ft. The Mendlesham transmitter, at 1002ft, is one of the few obstacles a drone might encounter in East Anglia.