Too close for comfort: suspected drone sighted near Trump’s Air Force One

Latest alleged sighting likely to trigger fresh calls to reign in beleaguered drone industry

Witnesses aboard US President Donald Trump’s official jet reported flying over what appeared to be a small drone on Sunday night.

The president was approaching an air base near Washington Sunday night, according to several people aboard Air Force One, when the device, which was yellow and black and shaped like a cross, appeared off the right side of the plane. It was seen by several passengers on the jet, shortly before touch down at 5:54 p.m. at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland.

The White House Military Office and the Air Force’s 89th Airlift Wing said in a statement on Monday evening that they were “aware of the report” and “the matter is under review.”

While it has been notoriously difficult for aviation safety investigators to verify such fleeting events, it appears to be among the thousands of such safety incidents involving unmanned devices in the U.S. that have prompted calls by law enforcement and homeland security agencies for greater measures to rein in their use.

Under current federal regulations, drones must be flown within sight of the operator and no higher than 400 feet (122 meters) above the ground without special waivers. While the most popular drone models are equipped with software designed to prevent longer range flights, incidents continue to pile up, according to government records.

The latest alleged sighting may spark a fresh round of debate about further clipping the wings of an industry that has been beleaguered by accusations of espionage in the USA of late, with many governments being directed to ground their fleet of commercial and enterprise drones – because they were made in China.

In a recent article, drone attorney Jonathan Rupprecht warned against raising alarm for drone sightings that – like the latest sighting – have neither been checked nor confirmed by authorities.

“The accuracy of the reports cannot be verified,” Rupprecht argues. “You could report you saw a drone all you want. No one can check. It’s literally a giant hearsay list. And here is a very thought provoking question….is there anyway we can prevent people who would stand to benefit from higher drone sighting numbers from calling in false sightings?

“I remember in law school my Criminal Procedure professor discussing anonymous tips and why they are by default very weak evidence.  Basically, if anonymous tips were given the same weight as reports from identified people to get warrants or conduct arrests, then a law enforcement officer can easily just call in anonymously the data they need to do whatever they want. Ring ring….”911. What is the nature of your emergency?”……. “Uh….I’d like to report a suspicious person who appears to be selling drugs.”

“Likewise, who is to stop the FAA employees, FAA contractors, people working in counter UAS industry, or manned pilots from calling in more sightings that cannot be verified? Who is to stop over reporting where anything just gets reported as a drone?”

Jonathan Rupprecht

Rupprecht has blamed the media for their doomsday reporting of drone sightings, which he says pose a wrong picture of the reality on the ground. Besides, the media almost never informs the public about the times when drone sighting reports decreased, like they did in the USA last year.

Most civilian drones weigh only a few pounds and probably couldn’t take down a jetliner. But government research suggests the damage could be greater than that from a similar-sized bird, which could shatter a cockpit windshield or damage an engine.

There have been a handful of instances in which drones actually struck aircraft, but none have resulted in a serious crash or injuries, according to National Transportation Safety Board data.

A hobbyist drone being flown illegally near New York City struck an army helicopter on September 21, 2017, the NTSB found. The impact damaged the helicopter, but it was able to land safely. The NTSB last month concluded that a drone most likely struck a KABC-TV chopper flying above downtown Los Angeles on December 4.

Drone sightings have occasionally disrupted operations at major airports, such as when pilots nearing Newark Liberty International Airport reported nearly colliding with a small drone in January 2019.

The FAA hopes to unveil regulations requiring that civilian drones transmit their location and identity by the end of the year. The new requirement is designed to help prevent the devices from being used by terrorists and to reduce the risks they pose to traditional aircraft.

Source: Bloomberg


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