8 days after the initial report, there is no evidence that hobbyist drones had anything to do with Gatwick Airport. Sussex Police have repeatedly referred to “industrial specification” drones. Bloomberg made up this false claim.
After 8 days, there is no physical evidence there were any drones flying over the field. The New York Times wrote on December 24, “1 Broken Drone, No Video, 2 suspects released: Gatwick Episode Doesn’t Add Up“. and by the 27th, the BBC softened their language to “apparent drone activity“.
Yet the fake news writers at Bloomberg make a false assertion and then use that as the basis for new public policy:
But it’s hard to see why selling drones to hobbyists for as little as $22 is a good idea. They can cause freak accidents, and while people can have fun with the machines, they also gain the sinister ability to attack others, or invade their privacy, from the air.
Bloomberg has not retracted their fake story. The purpose of this fake piece was propaganda messaging to ban model aircraft, primarily as part of an industrial initiative to clear and privatize the airspace for corporate package delivery drones.
It is no longer clear there were any drones in the skies over Gatwick Airport, a point acknowledged by the Sussex Police.
Update: Except for those operated by the Sussex Police. They now admit most sightings were likely of drones operated by the Sussex Police Farce .
“Of course, we will have launched our own Sussex Police drones at the time with a view to investigate, with a view to engage, with a view to survey the area looking for the drone, so there could be some level of confusion there.”
Buried in that update is that the mysterious “broken drone” found in a field at an unspecified location within an unspecified distance of the airport was unrelated.
Describing the police investigation as “incredibly thorough”, he said: “I don’t think we have found the drone responsible for this at this time.
“I think the fact that we have found two drones so far as a result of this does show the extent of the search that has been carried out. I am led to believe that we are able to rule those drones out of this investigation at this time.”
140,000+ passengers were scheduled per day through Gatwick during this period. There are over 21,000 people employed on the airfield. Police, military and media staked out the field looking for drones. The airfield is covered with closed circuit TV security monitoring.
But according to the police there are no photos or video. This quote comes from the BBC and has been re-iterated by Sussex Police:
According to the Sussex Police “we do not have any images of the #drone”. This tweet was issued on December 25 and contradicts earlier statements from the Police that drones were sighted Dec 19 through Dec 21.
The police argue that its difficult to capture a photograph a drone. Yet the same day they said this, an amateur photographer in Yorkshire UK photographed Air Force One on a top secret flight to Iraq, quite by coincidence of being a bird and aviation amateur photographer who was outside and decided to take a photo of a high altitude jet aircraft. Professionals can’t photograph a low altitude relatively slow moving drone but an amateur can photograph a secret aircraft flight at probably FL 350.
The police said that at least 67 people reported a drone “sighting”. However, the British media has been unable to interview a single individual who claimed to have seen one these drones.
There are increasing comment there may never have been any actual drones – but widespread hysteria. We know that a widely distributed photo online of an object in the sky turned out to be a reflection on a window of an interior light fixture. Police also responded to a drone sighting that turned out to be red lights on a tower crane in the distance. A widely distributed video clip appears to show the lights of a Metro Police EC-145 helicopter which was in the air at the time. (More on these another day.) Other photos distributed on social media were not taken at the Gatwick Airport. The Sussex Police, after claiming reports of daytime sightings now say the drones were only operating in darkness (when it was also raining, with winds of 10 mph gusting to 29 mph). Published news reports that a man witnessed a bicyclist packing up two drones several miles from the airport have not seen any follow up (in the UK it is legal to fly a drone within 0.62 miles of an airport so the presence of a drone several miles from an airport is not proof of guilt.) – this part of the story has vanished.
In 2014 the Sussex Police announced they would operate their own drones over the Gatwick Airport for “security”. Sussex Police was asked on their Twitter account if they operated their own drones over the airport at any time during this period – but after 72 hours, the Sussex Police have not answered that question.
Perhaps at some point there will be a link to an actual drone and we will learn about its operation and perhaps motives – if such drones actually existed. But as of now, Bloomberg made up their headline. A work of fiction appropriate for Der Spiegel.
As of this writing, a possible scenario is that a drone was sighted, initially, near the airport. It may have been flown maliciously or inadvertently (due to high winds, ending up in the wrong place), or it may have been flown as part of a business activity by someone who believed they had approval. Once the Airport shut down, hysteria and paranoia took over – and every light, every reflected light, every aircraft in the sky, and every item in the sky including birds and toy balloons began to look like “a drone”.
Business interests, including the companies that make drone detection and interception equipment have seen an enormous increase in sales post-Gatwick. One I looked at saw their share price double in one day. Industrial groups have leveraged the story to lobby for more regulation to potentially eliminate access to the air space except by commercial and government users.
There seems to be a significant overlap between this incident and propaganda messaging and its use to encourage targets to adopt the agenda of business/commercial drone interests.
Update: As of December 29, there have been no further updates about the alleged sightings of unidentified flying objects nor the man on a bicycle with 2 drones nor the “damaged drone” found in an unspecified location field – that is 5 days with no new information provided by the authorities.