Ever since the well-documented dramas that closed Gatwick Airport last Christmas, the drone industry’s tolerance of so-called ‘near-miss’ reports involving UAVs has grown palpably – and understandably – thinner.
Pilots and stakeholders alike have always been keen to defend the drone market when these reports make it into the mainstream media, but post-Gatwick this protection has become vital for the upkeep of the industry’s reputation from both a commercial and hobbyist point of view.
This week brought the most amusing case yet: a pilot flying a EuroFox aircraft reported that he was buzzed at 1,900ft by a 2 metre long flying pig. Yes, you did read that correctly.
The pilot detailed that the ‘pig’ had six rotors on its back and missed his aircraft by 9 metres.
As we are now seeing time and time again, the immediate thought was that it must have been a drone.
A UKAB Airprox report into the incident – which took place on May 4 in East Yorkshire – was unable to conclusively prove that was the case, however.
Instead, it suggested that the pilot may have seen another aircraft, a balloon or an advertising blimp which had broken free from its moorings.
While tales of flying pigs might raise a smile, the wider concern building in the industry is why drones are immediately to blame before other possible lines of enquiry are even considered.
It seems the claims surrounding these incidents are stuck in a viscous circle of blame reporting.
In a problematic sequence, the pilot makes claims of a ‘near-miss’ with a drone in a report published by UKAB. That publication is then picked up by the media and this circle becomes a never-ending one, constantly harming those in the industry who are trying to help and add value to the wider public community with drone technology.
Often, as pointed out by those in the market, it would be almost impossible for a drone to be identifiable at those heights, especially at some of the speeds reported, and even more so when it comes to commercial airlines.
In the past, drones have been mistaken for birds, carrier bags and other random objects, pointing to how the sighting, even as an honest one from the pilot, is often mistaken.
As with the flying pig case, the UKAB report concluded that it would be classified as a Category D incident where there was insufficient information to determine the risk involved.
It stated: “The Eurofox pilot reports that he became aware of a drone flying in formation with him, just off his left wing. It was there for a few seconds then it shot off ahead and disappeared out of sight. He described the object as 2m long, pink, shaped like a pig with 6 rotors on the back.
“Given the reporter’s description of the object, the Board initially wondered whether this was a vexatious time-wasting report and so contacted the reporter to confirm the details. However, the reporter was adamant that he had momentarily seen a large pink object with rotors that had appeared to be in formation, and that he had perceived that it had then accelerated ahead.”
The ambiguity of the reports is a cause of frustration for the drone industry. Throw away comments, as we have seen across other mediums, can cause damage and hurt to the vast majority of operators who fly in a safe and legal manner.
You’ve only got to take a look at the discussions taking place among drone users on Twitter to see the disdain with which the legitimacy of some claims are regarded, but in the meantime the prevalence of so-called drone ‘near miss’ stories merely feeds the flames of those willing to believe the anti-drone rhetoric.
In order to achieve an integrated airspace, with both manned and unmanned aviation operation harmoniously, the aviation industry as a whole must find a way around this type of reporting – or at least establish a position where the most preposterous claims can be instantly discredited.
Until then, we are likely to stay stuck in the same loop.