I can sort of understand how the police officer from Glasgow mistook the light from Jupiter to be a drone. A while back, my mom saw a strange bright light in the evening sky and thought it was a new satellite. She defaulted to thinking it was a satellite having seen ISS passes and Iridium Flares before. After realizing that it was stationary for too long, she realized it’s probably not a satellite.
Indeed, it wasn’t a satellite. It was another planet, Venus. Before the age of drones, we did not have the idea of a flying tiny object in the sky, only large planes and helicopters. Now that we have an easy mental model for a drone, and we’re used to seeing it fly around in many places, it does become the default assumption.
There are a lot more details on the story, and these two articles do a better job at providing thorough coverage and analysis:
I highly recommend reading the above if you want more reporting on the topic. Instead of providing more details, I want to talk more about how this affected the drone space.
There’s a pretty comprehensive list
on Wikipedia highlighting several notable drone incidents. There’s also an interactive map
that shows all drone incident reports in the USA. Even with those incidents in mind, drones have a very respectable safety record. The industry is focused on safety, and is taking multiple steps towards the same. Just recently, DJI published a good report
on how their “Elevating Safety” program was a success.
Unlike other sectors in aviation, the accident fatality rate for drones is zero
. The industry has been striving hard to maintain an image of safety and responsibility. The Gatwick incident was a reminder to airports to beef up their C-UAS systems, and many airports around the world did.
The incident has come up in several discussions that I’ve had with regulators and other industry members about policy and regulations. The disproportionate reaction and the effect that this incident has had irks me because it has dominated discussions for too long when it probably wasn’t involving drones at all.
Drones are new, and new is scary. Even as drones rise in popularity, the public perception of drones is still cautious. We as an industry must ensure that we show the numerous ways drones can be used for good such as search and rescue, disaster relief, medicine delivery and more.
Someone I know who doesn’t work on drones once suggested to me that perhaps what our industry needs is the kind of top PR effort seen by the likes of Coca-Cola, Big-Tobacco, etc. who’ve relied on their superior PR skills to gain public acceptance despite dubious or questionable safety/health effects.
I disagree wholeheartedly. Drones are being used for good and they are becoming more popular as a tool for creative professionals. Any artificial PR will do more harm in the long run, and we can instead focus on the good PR that drones are generating and double down on that.