The aviation Police have launched an investigation into a drone pilot who had his drone take off several times to very high altitudes near Schiphol Airport, The Netherlands. In at least one case, a DJI Mini 2 drone was flown at an altitude of more than 10 times the maximum permitted flight height of 120 meters in the vicinity of Schiphol Airport.
DJI Aeroscope drone detection system
The drone flights in question from Hoofddorp were noticed by a DJI AeroScope drone detection system stationed in the region.
“Illegal drone flights are now more often registered in the Controlled Traffic Region (CTR) of Schiphol, but the drone flights in Hoofddorp stood out because of the high frequency and major exceedances of the maximum flight height, in one case up to 1,400 meters (4,600 feet),” says Steef Boonstra of the aviation police.
“We have seized the drone and will now first read the data and establish the facts. Then we will interrogate the drone pilot. Despite the fact that the drone was brought to an altitude of 1,400 meters (4,600 feet) at some point, there is currently no indication that any air traffic has actually been endangered, even though Hoofddorp is an extension of the Polderbaan and the Buitenverlderbaan (Schiphol Airport runways). Further investigation should show whether this is indeed the case and which provisions of the Regulation on unmanned aircraft have been violated. The Public Prosecution Service then determines which penalty is appropriate,” says Boonstra.
Boonstra does not want to prejudge the question of whether the drone has been technically tampered with in order to have it circumvent the software height limit.
“At the moment it is also not automatically punishable to make software adjustments to a drone. That will change as soon as drones with Cx labels come on the market. From that moment on, the deliberate removal of software restrictions constitutes a violation of the legally established product requirements.”
It was decided to set an alarm on the drone’s identification number. This led to results within a day: during a new flight, the location of the pilot was immediately visible using AeroScope. The regional police subsequently found the drone pilot in that spot, including the detected DJI Mini 2. Because there was a flight at a high altitude in airspace class C, which is outside the possibilities of the Open Category, the case was transferred to the Aviation Department of the National Unit.
High-altitude drone flights are not a good example
According to Boonstra, an incident like this does the drone sector no good.
“I am a big fan of unmanned aviation, but of course, these kinds of incidents do not reflect well on the sector. A drone can not only pose a danger to an aircraft, but a pilot can also startle if a drone suddenly appears during take-off or landing. Moreover, the operational consequences can be significant if a section of airspace or runway has to be closed due to a drone sighting. This results in major economic damage, whereby it cannot be ruled out that this will be recovered from the drone pilot. Drone pilots who carry out these types of flights should realize that.”
In the future, functions such as Remote ID and Geo-awareness should ensure that drone pilots are less likely to make mistakes and that incidents such as these can be followed up more quickly.
Boonstra: “I hope that it will eventually become clear to us more quickly who is properly adhering to the rules and who is really making a conscious mistake so that the police can enforce more effectively.”
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