Under-fire NATS chief breaks cover to explain context behind drone pilot jibe

NATS Parliamentary inquiry

The National Air Traffic Services (NATS) executive lambasted by the industry for branding drone pilots “clueless, careless and criminal” in Parliament has penned a 400-word apology attempting to clarify the reasons for his remarks.

Andy Sage, head of UTM at NATS, made the comment while giving evidence to the Science & Technology Select Committee on Tuesday as part of its inquiry into commercial and recreational drone use. 

The clip of Mr Sage disparaging drone pilots led to fierce criticism on social media, prompting NATS to issue a statement apologising for his “inappropriate” language.

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“We are very sorry that the vast majority of drone pilots, who are extremely responsible, have been offended by Andy Sage’s remarks to the Science and Technology Committee,” it said.

Now Mr Sage himself has broken cover to express his own regret at the situation in a blog posting on the organisation’s website.

Titled ‘An apology to the drone community’, Mr Sage said the background to his comments were made during a lengthy discussion on the risks posed by drone technology to both manned aircraft and individuals, with topics including how drone misuse should be dealt with and the effectiveness of counter-drone technologies at detecting rogue drones.

“It was in the context of this discussion that I spoke about how the irresponsible use of drones should be countered in different ways. I was trying to talk about the misuse of drones and how different types of misuse should be dealt with differently,” he explained.

“It is now very clear that I made a mistake saying this. My words were inappropriate. I got it wrong. I would like to apologise to any drone pilots, the vast majority of whom are extremely responsible, who have been offended by my remarks. I can assure you that we do not ‘categorise’ drone users and believe passionately in fair access to airspace for all users who abide by the rules. I will ensure the Committee understands this position.”

Mr Sage acknowledged that “most” drone pilots are “responsible” and insisted NATS did not want the many to be tarnished by the misdeeds of the few.

He added: “NATS safely manages millions of flights in UK airspace every year; the existing safety management cultures and methods of operation that enable us to achieve this are equally applicable to keeping our skies safe with growing volumes of unmanned traffic. We are working hard, and we want to continue to cooperate closely with the drone pilot community on a range of solutions that will help us deliver that.”

Not everyone appears to be prepared to forgive Mr Sage for his remarks just yet, however.

In the comments section of the NATS website, one poster said: “Hopefully we will be seeing you providing an official retraction of your comment in front of the meeting panel and on Parliament TV. This is the only way you can undo what you’ve done.”

Another, understood to be the boss of a DJI service specialist, added: “I feel I speak for the majority of the drone community here when I say that this ‘apology’ is too little, too late. Governing bodies such as NATS are clearly very much against the non-commercial use of drones, as evidenced by your blatant and crude comments concerning (3 “C”s, see what I did there?) some hundreds of thousands of people across the UK.

“What is needed is not an apology, but some real concern and thought as to what is needed to solve this perceived problem, as well as some realistic viewpoints about the scale of the “drone problem” and not some of the typical hyperbole that we’ve come to expect from jobsworths in organisations such as NATS, CAA, DfT, BALPA etc… who are peddling this pointless and useless legislation.”

Read Andy Sage’s apology in full HERE.

Tags : Andy SageapologyDrone pilotdronesNATSParliament
Andrew Seymour

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