The drone sightings that plagued Gatwick airport in late 2018 and caused the closure of its single runaway for days, may have been false.
This is the claim from an outgoing executive at Chinese drone-maker DJI, Brendan Schulman, who has now joined Boston Dynamics as VP of governmental affairs, the Register reported.
The issue of drones entering airport airspace has been a problem for many years now. In 2016 for example, it was reported that a ‘drone‘ collided with an BA A320 passenger jet that was on final approach to London’s Heathrow Airport.
But the problem became a major political issue in late 2018.
Just a few days before Christmas in 2018, Gatwick airport had to take the unprecedented decision to close its single runway over a three day period, after drones were spotted.
Every time attempts were made to re-open the runaway, drones were apparently sighted again.
The multiple appearances of the mysterious drones delayed the Christmas get away of 140,000 passengers and disrupted 1,000 flights, causing an economic hit for airlines and others.
Despite an extensive police search and the use of military systems, as well as £50,000 reward, the unidentified drone operators were never caught.
A couple were arrested, but were released without charge. They sued the police but accepted £200,000 to drop the lawsuit.
The police also reportedly carried out 1,200 house-to-house inquiries and took 222 witness statements in a police operation costing £790,000 (plus the £200,000 mistaken arrest pay out).
In September 2019 the police said that the drone disruption at Gatwick airport had probably an inside job, with the rogue pilots having “detailed knowledge” of Gatwick when they used two drones to shut down the airport for 30 hours.
Later in 2019, the UK brought in tough new drone regulations, bringing in mandatory requirement for drone pilots to register any drone or model aircraft weighing between 250g (9oz) and 20kg (44lbs).
Failure to register will result in a £1,000 fine.
The UK also extended the no-fly zone for drones around airports and warned that all major UK airports would have military-grade anti-drone equipment.
But now the DJJ former executive, Brendan Schulman, has said there was never a rogue drone at Gatwick Airport.
Schulman reportedly said it was “now clear” that the event “did not actually involve a drone.”
The Register pointed to Schulman’s remarks in an interview with the industry news site DroneDJ, who cited freedom of information requests made by Ian Hudson of drone enthusiast site UAVHive.
“The documents uncovered by Freedom of Information Act requests, showing an utter lack of evidence of any drone being present, have made this quite clear,” said Schulman.
“I can now comfortably say this as someone no longer in the industry, because it won’t be attributed to an industry company who might sensationally be accused of being in denial,” Schulman reportedly said.
DJI is one of the world’s largest makers of consumer and professional drones.