News and Commentary. If there is one thing that the drone industry can do without, it’s more bad press about the perceived dangers of drones. But it seems that mainstream media just can’t resist a headline – and “suspected drone” sounds much more exciting than “plastic shopping bag” or “runaway birthday balloon.”
“Crew Members Injured as Plane Avoids near Collision with Suspected Drone,” reports the Guardian. “A Canadian airliner with 54 passengers on board had to swerve to avoid a suspected drone near Toronto early on Monday, slightly injuring two cabin crew, in the most serious case of its kind in Canada, officials said.”
The report goes on to actually say that the pilots of the Porter Airlines Bombardier Q400 twin-prop plane “saw an unmanned aerial vehicle.”
But the fact of the matter is that they didn’t see a UAV. The Porter Airlines spokesman reports that the pilots’ initial assessment was that the unidentified object that caused the pilots to take evasive action was a balloon. It was Canadian Transportation Safety Board (TSB) spokeswoman Genevieve Corbin who told reporters it was “most likely a drone.”
“Most likely” is doubtful. Public reports of the incident indicate that the sighting happened at 9,000 feet altitude 20km – about 12 miles – from shore over Lake Ontario. It seems, rather, highly unlikely that a recreational drone was launched in that area and flew to that altitude.
It’s remotely possible. The TSB has now launched an investigation, and they may be able to come up with some evidence – but given that there was no collision and presumably the UFO went on its way unscathed – or popped – it seems unlikely that we’ll ever know for sure.
That lack of evidence to the contrary is damaging for the drone industry, who by and large have been convicted by the media of crimes against airplanes without proof and without a trial. The same article reports a “rash of near-misses between planes and unmanned aerial vehicles in the United States…” but close examination of those statistics indicate a lack of consistency in reporting so egregious that its hard to say how many times a drone was actually seen near an airport, much less came close to another aircraft. Reports earlier this year of a collision between a British Airways passenger jet and a drone – reports which led to political speeches and promises of stricter regulations – were found later to be entirely false; that UFO turned out to be “most likely” a plastic shopping bag.
The drone industry has a public relations problem, and they’re clearly fighting an uphill battle. Responsible operators should welcome every advance that allows their drone to communicate, be tracked and identified – if only to provide themselves with irrefutable proof that they weren’t the balloon causing the problem.
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
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