1st time on live TV: a drone operator caught flying illegally.

May 10, 2019

“We’re not talking about drones flying underneath the flight path,” said WhiteFox Strategic Advisor Brett Velicovich to NBC’s Richard Engel. Together, they looked up at the sky from the Venice Pier in Los Angeles, California. “We’re talking about flying in the flight path.”



You may not yet see drones every day, but if society figures it out, one day you will. Drones are already beginning to revolutionize medical transplants, carbon emissions, and, one day, circumventing automobile traffic via air taxis.


For that to become a reality, we must work to circumvent ignorance and disregard toward safe flying practices. Because when it comes to a careless or conscientious drone operator, the difference can be life or death.


Drones in dangerous proximity to aircraft is a common headline. Frankfurt, Gatwick, Dubai, Heathrow, Dublin, and Newark all headlined news in the last five months for near-misses—most notably Gatwick, which shut down for 30 hours, affected 100,000 passengers, and cost airlines over $60M.


There are over 1 million registered drones in the United States, and estimates double when it comes to unregistered ones. The drone airspace today is similar to the US when commercial aviation was burgeoning and there was no Air Traffic Control. For drones, there is no system in place to identify and authorize who’s flying drones, where they’re doing it, and why. So there’s an inherent risk to what flies above us.


What’s the root of drone threats?

Most drones aren’t threats, but the ones that do pose risk can appear harmless. Though terrorists and criminal actors have and will continue to use drones for malicious reasons, the most pressing risk today comes from ignorant or flippant drone operators. Russ Butler, Vice President of Security for the San Francisco 49ers and Levi Stadium, reinforced this sentiment at ISC West—the largest security conference in the world—when speaking to the unauthorized drone incursions above Levi Stadium: “Truthfully, the bulk of those numbers are hobby fliers that are either clueless or careless,” said Butler.



Some operators simply don’t know the rules of flying. But this is quickly changing. It is now mandatory to take a quiz and register drones with the Federal Aviation Administration. Others may know the rules, but disregard them, think they’re committing a victimless crimenot anticipating the destruction of a drone colliding with an airplane, or losing power over a stadium, or falling onto a nuclear plant.



While the cost of collateral damage due to near misses has been proven, simulations are the only indicator for what would happen if a drone were to actually collide with a jet. Considering birds cause $600M of damage to aircraft per year, the reality of a drone colliding with a plane could be fatal.


So, there are millions of drones out there, any of which could be problematic if flown cluelessly near airports, stadiums, and in other restricted airspace.


Is there a solution?

A number of new companies have taken a counter-drone approach by focusing on stopping drones at any cost: with net guns, drones, or barrage jammers that disrupt innocent signals nearby the isolated threat. But WhiteFox sees the future of regulating drones as drone airspace management--a comprehensive network of intelligent RF products that detect, identify and authorize drones digitally and automatically, with the capability of selectively mitigating bad or unknowingly dangerous actors, when needed.


One key element that will add trust to the drone airspace is a digital identification of drones system that securely provides identity to each drone and its operator. Today, drone operators are required to print out their FAA ID number and tape it to their drone, a system that can’t last due to its lack for true accountability and security.


In a way, WhiteFox and other leading companies together are priming themselves to be the Air Traffic Control for the lower, drone airspace.


Los Angeles with NBC

Though the airspace was restricted to drones due to its close proximity to LAX, WhiteFox data gathered before the segment had demonstrated that the area was a consistently popular place to fly drones, regardless.


So, WhiteFox headed to Los Angeles to survey the airspace near LAX. With NBC Correspondent Richard Engel, WhiteFox CEO Luke Fox, and WhiteFox Strategic Advisor Brett Velicovich, the team set up its flagship product, DroneFox Mobile, in Venice near the pier.


And within minutes, a drone was detected flying in restricted airspace merely 3 nautical miles from the nearest airplane. Using proprietary algorithms to analyze the airspace, DroneFox detects drones via the communications link between drones and their operators.


This was the first time an operator was caught on live television flying a drone in restricted airspace. Engel and Velicovich gleaned the operator’s location from DroneFox and approached the operator.


Why was he flying so close to an air strip? Did he know what he was doing was illegal?


Click here to find out via the full NBC story.