The UK Drone Community Fights Back, Gains FOI Admission Of No Tangible Drone Evidence

Regular Hackaday readers will have noted a succession of stories following the reports of drones in the air over British airports and in proximity to aircraft. We’ve consistently asked for a better quality of investigation and reporting into these cases, because so far the absence of reported tangible evidence of a drone being present casts doubt on the validity of the official reaction. For too long the official records of air proximity incidents have relied upon a shockingly low standard of proof when apportioning blame to drone operators, and this situation has contributed to something of a panic over the issue.

It seems that some members of the British drone flying community are on the case though. Airprox Reality Check are a group analysing air proximity reports and linking them to contemporary ADS-B and weather records to identify possible explanations. They have devised a rating system based upon a number of different metrics in an attempt to quantify the reliability of a particular report, and they are tabulating their analysis of air proximity reports on a month by month basis. This includes among many analyses such gems as Airprox Report #2019046, in which an Embraer 170 flying at 9000 feet and 20 km offshore reported a drone in close proximity. The Airprox Reality Check analysis points out that no known drone could manage that feat, and refers to a passing Boeing 737 revealed through ADS-B data as a more likely culprit.

Their latest news is that they have made a Freedom of Information request to the Air Proximity Board, asking for what evidence the Board has of a drone having been involved in any of the over 350 incidents in UK airspace having been reported as involving drones. The official response contains the following quote:

in all cases UKAB has no confirmation that a drone has flown close to an aircraft other than the report made by the pilot(s). Similarly, other than from the report of the pilot(s), UKAB has no confirmation that a drone was involved.

This confirms the view of the multirotor and drone community that has been reported by Hackaday in the past, that the whole British drone panic has been based upon unreliable and uncorroborated reports from eyewitnesses with little direct experience of multirotors. If any irresponsible drone operator is flying into close proximity with aircraft or otherwise into protected airspace then it goes without saying that they should be prosecuted, yet it seems that the community is being punished as though this had happened when the reality is that no such acts are proven to have occurred.

33 thoughts on “The UK Drone Community Fights Back, Gains FOI Admission Of No Tangible Drone Evidence

  1. The last statement “in all cases UKAB” sounds very legalese, and it looks like they’re just saying the exact same thing twice but in a different word order. They probably do that for a reason, could anybody explain this? Do the two sentences have a subtly different meaning?

    1. In the FOIA request we asked them two different questions:

      1) In relation to drone Airprox reports originating from manned aircraft, to avoid any doubt, can
      you please confirm precisely how many of the airprox reports submitted by aircraft pilots,
      and published by the UKAB, represent cases where a drone was proven to have flown
      close to an aircraft?

      2) In relation to drone Airprox reports originating from manned aircraft, to avoid any doubt, can
      you please confirm precisely how many of the airprox reports submitted by aircraft pilots,
      and published by the UKAB, represent cases where a drone was proven to have been
      involved at all?

      Hence the two answers.

  2. So, you know better than the stupid, lying pilots? Especially since someone (aviation experts, from their armchair) can tell from ADSB data that the pilot did not see a drone?
    It doesn’t confirm anything except there’s no video proof (what do you expect?).

    1. No accusation of lying. In fact in many cases (over 80%) the pilot describes ‘something’ – eg ‘a dark rectangular object’ and the UKAB classifies this as a drone airprox (going against their own stated ‘approach’).

      Clearly cases like the cabin crew manager who saw two ‘drones’ flying in formation at 14,000ft out of the cabin window is hard to believe. For one; how did the two pilots with the six big windows at the front miss the two drones? Secondly, a (relatively) static (max speed around 20kts) drone would be visible from a B787 cabin window (travelling at 277kts at the time) for approximately 23 milliseconds from the closest aisle. What are the chances that the cabin crew manager looked out of the window within that 23 milliseconds and identified two drones?

      That’s not to mention that 14,000ft is impossible with a consumer drone.

      On the other hand, a B747 and B787 would have been visible on the bearing mentioned at the time and for several minutes (given that they were travelling at similar speeds in broadly the same direction) and at their distances would have appeared drone sized.

    2. Those are your words, not mine or those of the linked-to site. It’s something to live by; don’t feed the trolls, but here goes.

      Eyewitness reports alone are unreliable, no matter who they come from. Pilots are experts in full size aircraft, but it becomes rapidly evident from reading their statements in the reports that many of them have little clue at all what a multirotor looks like in flight or what its capabilities in terms of range and altitude are. It’s akin to expecting a supertanker captain to be an expert in kayaks because both are boats.

      All that is being asked for here is an improvement to the shockingly low standard of proof required for blame to be apportioned to drone fliers. Nobody but you is calling pilots names.

      1. For a very long time I have been saying that these pilot s are lying becau they don’t know the limitations of a drone and to this k with all the cameras and camera phones there’s no video evidence to prove that shit about Gatwick Airport that was fake with all the cc tv and savailanc cameras around the airport yet still no video evidence.

        1. I think lying is the wrong word. They think they saw a drone. The trouble is that they don’t know quite what a drone looks like or what it can do, so they are attributing “drone” to all sorts of things. “Lying” implies intentional falsehood, and I don’t think for a moment that is the case here.

          1. “Lying” is also the case when the people report a drone with the knowledge that they don’t actually know what it is.

            “I dunno, must be a drone, I’ll say it was a drone” is equally dishonest.

    3. How is your comment not exactly what you appear to be criticizing, namely casting judgement with no basis from the comfort of your armchair? And, notably, you add significant misrepresentation, along side entirely fabricated claims, to your argument.

      Nowhere were pilots called stupid lairs. And while it is true that it can’t be confirmed that drones WEREN’T involved, onerous legislation shouldn’t be enacted based on what amounts to “spectral evidence”. There’s no evidence flying pigs WEREN’T involved either, so why don’t we require farmers to register all their pigs in case any of them sprout wings and take to the skies?

    4. My sarcasm probably was too much for the internet, sorry about that.
      My issue is with the last paragraph of this article and its undertone/implications, not the information request or any attempt to make things better/more accurate.

      The last paragraph states:

      “This confirms the view of the multirotor and drone community that has been reported by Hackaday in the past, that the whole British drone panic has been based upon unreliable and uncorroborated reports from eyewitnesses with little direct experience of multirotors. If any irresponsible drone operator is flying into close proximity with aircraft or otherwise into protected airspace then it goes without saying that they should be prosecuted, yet it seems that the community is being punished as though this had happened when the reality is that no such acts are proven to have occurred.”

      When I first read that, I thought:
      – It’s discrediting the eyewitnesses (aviation pros)
      – It’s suggesting there is some sort of proof that someone failed to acquire/present.
      – The quote/statement does not really confirm anything, especially not what the paragraph is suggesting.

      I still think my initial impression is valid. But that’s just my interpretation.

      I have been toying with “drones” since 2006 (Silverlit “X-Ufo” with mechanical gyro) and I have a Boeing pilot in the family.

          1. Ah, give ’em a little credit. They could work it out from the context, and I reckon its a bit more well known now since Julian Assange has been thrown in there.

  3. None of this matters. The people who want to outlaw hobby drones (i.e., those involved in development of commercial drones) will win. All they have to do is create some actual incidents using hobby drones. Don’t think they won’t.

    1. Yes, look at the various organisations that have staged various events in order to justify governments bombing the living daylights out of various other countries, I’m looking at you CIA, MI6.

  4. >when the reality is that no such acts are proven to have occurred.

    That’s utter nonsense. Just look at some of the videos posted by clueless idiots wanting to brag on Youtube. The problem is real and it is not because someone “wants to ban” anything. Why have e.g. model planes and helicopters have never been a problem? Could it be that their owners were traditionally better trained and more responsible because flying an RC model takes actually some skill. Any bozo can buy a drone that can literally take off, fly a pre-programmed route and land all by itself, just by pressing a button. So the result is that bozos are buying these and bozos are using them irresponsibly, spoiling it for everyone.

    Don’t blame the politicians on this one …

    1. True, there are YouTube videos of people flying drones into places they shouldn’t. And yes, they should be pursued, and punished. They do drone fliers no favours, but the rest of drone fliers should not be collectively punished for their actions.

      I’m no connoisseuse of such videos but I can’t recall seeing any from the UK, however there will doubtless be some. I am not however aware of any of those incidents being among the UK air proximity reports that we are discussing here.

    2. You want to go ahead on over to RCgroups and watch the thousands of FPV videos of RC PLANE pilots flying long range FPV at above 400ft for kilometers beyond LOS??? I’ll wait while you do that. And while your at it, you can go ahead and print your post and eat your own words… I’ve seen far more FPV plane pilots break the law doing stupid stuff than quad copter pilots ever have, no matter the youtube celebs being dumb with drones. Fixed wing can fly higher and stay in the air far longer than a drone. And if you think that a copter hovering is more dangerous to aviation than another plane, I’d like to also direct your attention to all the plane vs. plane crashes.
      And one more thing, try handing the controls to a freestyle or racing drone to a fixed wing pilot sometime, and the other way around and see who crashes the fastest…. Something tells me you blow a lot of smoke but nothing of any value comes out with it…

  5. Actual experience while driving on a windy day about a month ago – I saw a white drone doing amazing maneuvers well within five miles from an airport. When I got much closer, I saw that it was a white plastic bag.

  6. You know, there is an easy solution that the authorities and pilots could take that would make the facts more relevant: Install dash-cams on airplanes. The problem with that is that it reduces their ability to push the narrative the way they want to push it.

    As with everything now a days i simply say “show me the data”, cudos to the community for pushing back and if the pilots and authorities say that this a problem then cameras should have been installed on planes after the first incident. A couple hundred dollars for an exterior recording system per plane is peanuts in the grand scheme of things.

    1. Airliners should have cameras aimed at the airspace around them and looking back at the tail, wings, engines, and landing gear. That way if there is a close approach from anything else there will be a video record. If there’s a problem with the control surfaces, engines, or landing gear, the pilots will be able to see what’s wrong.

      But despite such capability having been possible at small size, light weight, and low cost for several years now, how many, if any, airliners have such equipment? The pilots still must depend on sensors (that can fail in various ways) and the cabin crew looking out the windows. The view is typically poor and they can’t see the tail or landing gear at all.

      Even with the crew looking out the windows then telling the pilots exactly what’s wrong, it doesn’t help when the pilots don’t believe them as to which engine is on fire because the pilot knows for certain the right engine is used for cabin air in a 737, despite the fact they’re in a newer model that uses *both* engines for cabin air, with its left engine breaking apart and on fire. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kegworth_air_disaster

      Radio controlled planes have better video recording equipment. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WEZ0EuRFLgs

      They don’t know if the hatch popping open was part of the cause of the crash or from something in the electronics going *poof*, or if it was completely pilot error, or if the electronics only shorted and began to burn after impact. He says two other planes crashed that day after flying through that area. Without the onboard camera they would have no idea the hatch popped open before it crashed. That certainly wouldn’t have helped control of the plane, having a huge hole in its side.

  7. This is part of the reason I have stopped flying my quad copter (I hate the word drone, mine isn’t a drone, its a toy, a bloody expensive one by the time I finished with it, but a remote controlled toy nonetheless! I mean we don’t call radio controlled cars or boats flipping drones!)

    I used to see a number of them flown at weekends in the big fields and open spaces near me. Haven’t seen one for ages now. Either the fad passed for them or, like me, they are paranoid of flying anymore.

    1. +1 they are not ‘drones’ sad really how the news portraits these expensive remote controlled toys as killing machines. I think the only person who was actually arrested was flying an RC plane too close to the airport. Didn’t hear that in the news….

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.