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Parrot AR Drone In Flight

The Challenge In The Rising Use Of Drones

Over the past few weeks a number of the technology blogs and news sources I read regularly (particularly Harvey Nash Technology on Twitter) have been raising questions about the predicted rise in the use of ‘drones’ in the UK over the next 20 years, and inviting thoughts.

As both a technologist and a helicopter pilot, I’m in a good position to comment on that. However it’s not a topic which can be done justice in 140 characters on Twitter. I tried, failed, and so I thought I’d expand on it:

 

It’s not regulation.

I wasn’t quite accurate in my reply to Harvey Nash. It isn’t the regulatory framework which needs change; it’s the enforcement and awareness of it. The UK Civil Aviation Authority, who issue my pilot’s licence, are very clear on the rules for Unmanned Aircraft under 20kg in weight. Unless CAA permission has been granted, the pilot cannot:

  • Fly over or within 150m (492 ft) of a congested area
  • Fly over or within 150m (492 ft) of an organised open-air assembly of more than 1,000 persons
  • Fly within 50m (164 ft) of any vessel, vehicle or structure which is not under the control of the person in charge of the aircraft
  • Fly within 50m (164 ft) of any person.

These rules are, by CAA and Air Navigation Order standards, relatively simple and clear cut – if you don’t believe me, try and easily interpret Rule 5 (Low Flying) on Page 329 of CAP393.

The purpose of the rules is really quite clear – to keep small drones away from the risk of hitting people unless special permission has been granted by the CAA.  The reason is that 20kg falling from several hundred (or even tens) of feet will hurt. A lot.

Most commercially available drones don’t have the required redundancy to deal with a failure, don’t have the same certification as aircraft, and don’t even have guaranteed communications with the controller.. so the risk of something untoward happening is high and must be mitigated.

It should be noted we’re given much more flexibility to operate Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) ‘drones’ in the UK (and most of Europe as EASA takes over) than in other parts of the world. In the USA, for example, there is a complete ban on UAS for commercial purposes!

Awareness -vs- Consumerisation.

So, if the rules are pretty clear, why are we seeing headlines like this:

Drones flown in London and Liverpool despite CAA laws

UK’s first drone conviction will bankrupt me, says Cumbrian …

The answer, and the challenge, is awareness. The consumer can go and buy one of these drones relatively cheaply – under £300, and they’re cool. What gadget nerd wouldn’t want one? For a lot of us they are the work of the science fiction of our youths.

But they come with no warnings about about the legality of operating them. This advert for a Parrot AR Drone on Amazon.co.uk contains only these safety warnings:

 

Amazon AR Drone Warnings.
The Only Warnings on Amazon AR Drone Advert

Where’s the big, bold, bright warning about legality of operating it?

We know that ignorance is no defence to breaking the law, but as unmanned aerial systems become more consumerised, and available, the manufacturers and retailers should surely draw to the attention of their customers that they run the risk of hurting people, and thus prosecution if they’re not careful about how they use their new toy!

Enforcement.

I’m certainly no CAA-apologist (even they, under their new leadership, admit they need to improve in many areas). But they simply aren’t resourced to police these rules to any great extent. By virtue of cost and licensing they have managed to police and enforce manned flight rules to date.

They are under-resourced to police and enforce these rules across the whole of the UK, and unless somebody reports incidents they most likely won’t be detected and dangerous situations could become commonplace.

The UK Government requires that the CAA’s costs are met entirely from its charges on those whom it regulates. Unlike many other countries, there is no direct Government funding of the CAA’s work.

So, should the UAS / Drone manufacturers start to contribute to policing and regulating the safety of the devices they make money from selling? That seems fair to me, as someone who pays CAA fees!

Historically The CAA have brought few prosecutions, in line with the internationally established ‘Just Culture‘ which encourages reporting (so we can all learn) and seeks to only punish wilfully negligent acts. How will they manage this when unlicenced consumers are involved?

It’s my view that they need to educate, then prosecute, and then highlight prosecutions to raise awareness.

The Future.

I love aviation. I love technology & gadgets. I embrace consumerism. However, to harness the huge possibilities of drones / UAVs we need to find a way to make them work safely in society – before a single incident occurs which results in an outright ban.  

We could look to making them a licence-able aircraft, but those in aviation will attest that this will be costly, cumbersome and probably kill the industry and its undoubted benefits and enjoyment. We know that licenced commercial UAV operators exist, and use much more expensive, complicated, and safe aircraft – let them undertake the commercial work over populated areas.

But for domestic and hobby drone-flyers: the manufacturers need to step up to the mark with awareness. Very few people set out to deliberately break the law (and where they do the likelihood of being caught, and subsequent penalty should be a huge deterrent)… but they need to be aware of the rules.

Should we mandate the inclusion of warning notices in the boxes and on the packaging?

I think so… what do you think?

EU Map & Logo

Ready for GDPR? 5 Simple Steps!

According to Kroll Ontrack & Blancco, 4 in 5 IT managers are unaware of the upcoming changes to Data Protection regulations, The EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).  This certainly means they can’t be preparing for it either… and unlike the Data Protection Act 1998 which it will supersede the penalties can be huge – 5% of global turnover or €100,000,000 (whichever is greater!).

What is GDPR?

The GDPR will be a common set of data protection rules across the European Union. Technically it will be an EU Regulation which will be implemented in law in all member states – the purpose being to harmonise data protection across the EU and (potentially) centralise policing for international companies.

At the moment it is still in draft form, but expectation is that although some changes have been made over its course through the European Parliament, it will be adopted in late 2014 or early 2015 and come into force in 2017 – allowing at least 2 years for companies to transition.

What’s different?

There are 5 main differences to the Data Protection Act in the UK

  1. Three New Rights For Data Subjects:  The Right To Be Forgotten, The Right To Data Portability, and The Right To Data Erasure.
  2. Mandatory Breach Notification. It becomes mandatory to report data breaches to the regulator within 72 hours, and data subjects must be notified if harm will occur.
  3. Explicit Consent. You must obtain explicit consent to hold the data from the data subject – opting in will become the norm.
  4. Penalties. As mentioned, the penalties rise significantly for negligent data breaches – rising to 5% of global turnover €100m for more serious breaches.
  5. The Data Protection Officer.  Public sector bodies and organisations processing over 5000 subjects data in 12 months must appoint a Data Protection Officer whose responsibility it will be to conduct risk assessments, analysis and to safeguard the data.

Don’t Panic – We’ve Got 2 Years!

Don’t Wait Either.

With such huge changes proposed there are the usual elements of the IT industry who either professing impending doom or who are suggesting that it won’t happen.  Neither seem likely to me – GDPR will happen in some form, likely to be close to the current drafts; and there is no impending doom.

There is at least two years until you have to be compliant, so there is plenty of time to start to integrate the new principles now so the change can be almost seamless by the time it becomes mandatory.  Data Security is becoming a large differentiating factor for consumers, so make sure you’re ahead of the game – I’ve got 5 simple steps you can start with now to make sure you’re ready come 2017:

5 Simple Steps to GDPR Compliance.

1.  Understand Where You Are.

Before you can start to think about how you’ll comply with GDPR you need to know what data you have now, where it is and how it is protected.  Undertake an audit of what you hold today, and what you’re likely to take on in the next few years.  Once you have this, assess how relevant it is – do you need to keep it?  Does it have value?   Of course you should be destroying data when it becomes unneeded under the DPA’s Principle 5… but check and delete.  If you don’t have it, you can’t lose it!

2.  Obtain Consent & Engage.

Now you know whose data you’ve got, remember that you’ll need to have their consent to hold it in a post-GDPR world.  You can use the next two years to obtain that consent when customers and data subjects contact you naturally.  Develop the processes for obtaining consent now – a simple ‘Do you mind if we hold your details?’ in a contact centre conversation will suffice.  Don’t try and obtain in surreptitiously, in small print or otherwise, people won’t take kindly and it’s not in the spirit of the regulations:  would you want your data held like this?

If you start asking now, by 2017 a huge proportion of the relevant data you hold (remember to destroy ageing data!) will be opted in and you won’t be one of the organisations embarrassingly seeking retrospective consent.

3.  Update Your Policies.

As the GDPR will enshrine a right for data subjects to see your privacy policy, this is a great opportunity to update it and make it obviously available – put it on your website.  You can use the results of your audit from step 1 to make sure it’s accurate too.  Ensure it is written in plain English and is easy to understand.

Update your Breach Policy & Detection.  With stiff penalties for failing to report breaches in a much shorter time scale than you might be used to working, it’s important that your process internally means that any breach, no matter how small, gets to your Data Protection Officer (or equivalent for smaller companies) promptly and you have a plan on how to react.  Ensure that everyone in the business knows the importance of reporting data loss promptly – include it in your recurrent data protection training from now onwards.

4.  Identify Responsible Person.

If you’re a public body, or process data on more than 5,000 subjects then you’ll need someone to fulfil the mandatory role of ‘Data Protection Officer,’ but even if you’re smaller you’ll want to identify one person in your organisation who can ensure you’re compliant.  Someone with experience of data protection principles and a good view of the company will be ideally place.  Resist the temptation to appoint someone from Finance or Legal teams unless they’ve genuinely got a good understanding of the data identified in point 1.

Use the time between now and implementation to make sure that they have conducted relevant Data Risk Assessments and mitigated risk wherever possible.

Then, importantly, empower this person – get senior management or the board involved to ensure that everyone knows about the changes and the importance of them (there’s €100m at stake here!).

5. ‘Change-In’ The GDPR now.

Come 2017, most companies won’t be operating exactly the same systems, in the same state, as they are today. This means the natural business changes which keep driving them forward can be used to ensure you’re designing in GDPR principles from today onwards.  Simple ideas and some best practice:

  • Select a data protection framework now (COBIT, NIST or ISO) and judge all new changes against it.
  • Build in monitoring and reporting tools which report loss.
  • Obfuscate and encrypt data wherever possible, especially on test systems.
  • Adopt ‘Opt In,’ ‘Data Portability’ and ‘Data Erasure’ functions in new software, now.
  • Audit your systems – consider getting external auditors to both probe your defences and your processes.

A series of small changes over the next two-to-three years will mean you’re ready for GDPR when it becomes law.

If you’re in doubt at any point, ask yourself:

Would I want my data held and processed like this?  Does this seem fair?

7-5, Taken Alive??

Please don’t misuse it…

When learning to fly I was taught a mnemonic (one of many learnt during training), which helps me to remember the three very important transponder squawks which are used in varying emergencies:

75 – taken alive, 76 – in a fix, 77 – going to heaven.

This is to describe the following squawks and their uses.

  • 7500 – Unlawful Interference – Hijacking normally.
  • 7600 – Communication Failure – Radio Inoperative.
  • 7700 – Other Emergency – Normally a May Day, where an aircraft or person aboard is in grave or imminent danger.

Emergency Squawks

The main thing they do is alert any radar operator to your peril – and they generally do this by highlighting the aircraft in a very prominent colour on the display of the radar operator.  The operator can then use this information to assist the flight much better, and if you have a Mode S transponder they will also have other information about the flight as well.

Of course we all hope we never have to use any of the emergency squawks, but we all use routine codes every day and will often have to change between them in flight, as we are assigned new codes by new ATC units.

Be Careful!

A post in this months GASIL reminds us that as pilots we have to be careful how we set these squawks… particularly near or around 7500.  Older transponders (in much of the GA fleet) are set by rotating a series of dials, whereas newer transponders are set with buttons and the code typed in.

Old Transponder
Old Transponder
New Transponder
New Transponder

The danger is that when changing squawk on an old style transponder you may scroll the dials through one of the emergency combinations.  7600 and 7700 can be resolved quite quickly by confirming with Air Traffic Control that no emergency exists…  however they are unlikely to believe that having squawked 7500 (even fleetingly) no hijack situation exists, no matter how much you plead.

Fighter Jet Anyone?

The point made in this months GASIL, which I am emphasising is that you must select standby when changing transponder codes on older style units.

Change the unit to standby, change the code, then put turn transponder back to On (Or Alt if available).

If you do not then in the current climate, and especially in 2012 with the Olympics in town, you can fully expect to be intercepted by an RAF Typhoon from the Quick Reaction Force.  This may take some explaining away…

… but if you do get it wrong you can find the Interception Procedures here!

2012 Olympics… the end of Aviation?

The proposed airspace restrictions which will come into force for the 2012 Olympic games in London have been announced…  but I am not quite sure who dreamt them up!

When London won the 2012 Olympic games it was widely celebrated as being good for business and the economy as a result of all the extra people and spending it would bring it.  It seems that if you are in the business of aviation and you’re in the South East of England, it won’t be good for your business!

Restricted or Prohibited.

Olympic Airspace Restrictions
Olympic Airspace Restrictions

As you can see from the graphic the plan is to establish two temporary control zones.  The central one will be prohibited for all flight apart from IFR traffic for London Heathrow and London City (and RAF Northolt & Biggin Hill).  This include the heli-lanes across London, and London Battersea heliport.

There will then be a much larger Restricted zone which more or less covers all of south eastern England.  Flight by powered aircraft will be permitted in the restricted zone, so long as:

  • A flight plan is filed using AFPEx between 2 and 24 hours prior to flight.
  • An acceptance / approval number is granted in receipt of the above.
  • 2 way RT is established with controlling authority and acceptance number is quoted.
  • Aircraft is squawking the unique assigned transponder code.
  • RT with ATC at all times.

These restrictions will be in full force for 2 months (13 July to 12 Sept 2012).

Why?

Clearly the authorities (in this case The CAA, NATS, MoD, and HM Governments security services) have an obligation to deliver a safe games; and these restrictions are obviously designed to reduce the threat of terrorist attacks using aviation.  But I just don’t see how they can work….

Inside the Restricted zone are a number of general aviation airports, from where a light aircraft can take off and be over the Olympic games sites in under 10 minutes.  All of the measures above will only assist in identifying that an unauthorised flight is taking place.  But can the military really get a fighter jet “on task” that quickly, and if they can – what are they going to do about a light aircraft only a few hundred feet above a packed venue?   Whatever they do there is certain to be a lot of “collateral” damage.

Destructive Effect.

It’s probably fair to assume though that the security services have some form of plan for this eventuality and clearly they aren’t going to share that with the masses.  However, it’s the destructive effect of such a massive restriction zone which concerns me.

Obviously all current commercial traffic into and out of London Battersea will be done for; and there are a further 14 airfields within the zones who have to date not been consulted at all.  There is a suggestion that exemptions may be granted on a case by case basis, but unless these exemptions are pretty generous then general aviation is pretty much ruled out during the Olympics.

So, if you’re a helicopter charter operator who though the Olympics would bring plenty of work in…. you might want to think again.  Or at the very least email Olympics.Airspace@dft.gsi.gov.uk with your concerns!

Banks: Their Own Worst Enemies.

The Big 4
The Big 4

This is a real tale of just how stupid banks can be.  It involves one of the “Big 4” high street retails banks in the UK and me.

Winding Up.

I had a limited company which I had wound up, it had a loan with ‘BigBank’ – which was paid by means of a standing order in to the company current account with BigBank. The only reason that the current account existed was for the payment of this loan, because BigBank refused to take the money by Direct Debit from anywhere else and wouldn’t allow a standing order direct into the loan.  Stupid.

So, every month £175 went into this account and £175 went out automatically; to the point I had almost forgotten about it except for the money going out of my account every month.  As the company had been dormant for so long I asked my accountants to wind it up – which they did.

Bouncy.

Obviously BigBank has an electronic link to Companies House, and as such froze the account.  So the £175 standing order in to the current account was returned to me.  Yet they still paid the loan, leaving the account £175 overdrawn with no agreement.  Which they charged £30 for.

I immediately rang my bank manager and explained what I thought had happened, and he concurred.  As there was a few months left on the loan I offered to repay it immediately, and the £175 balance on the current account; but no fee’s.   He said he’d get that sorted, and thanked me for calling.

He rang back later that day and said that he couldn’t do it because the system wouldn’t allow him – the account was frozen.  I asked how I could repay the banks £1,100 – “you can’t” was his reply.  What??  I was told I would have to wait for their recoveries team to get in touch, but he would ask them to do that promptly.

Waiting.

Another month went by and they took the £175 again, and added another £30 charge on; before I finally got a flurry of letters from BigBank.  One of the letters was a formal demand for repayment of £11,000 – the full amount of the loan which now only had a little over £1000 left to repay.  Two of the letters referred to my personal guarantee on the loans of a company I had never even heard of.  Total and complete system failure.  Remember I just want to repay what’s owed.

I replied to their letters with a complaint stating that I was very unhappy at having to wait for letters rather than just repay what I didn’t contend was owed, then I received letters demanding repayment of £11,000 in 21 days, and then letters demanding repayment of someone else’s loan.  They just weren’t organised at all.

Settling.

I got a letter back apologising and asking me to call to arrange repayment of £1010 (they’d taken the fees and extra interest off) within 21 days else they would instruct solicitors.  They were now threatening me!! I rang them and explained what had happened, they seemed to think this was normal.  I told them under the circumstances I was prepared to offer them £750 to settle the account.

To my surprise they accepted.  So, instead of having £1100 three months ago they have accepted £750 – they have done themselves out of £350.

No wonder they are state owned – if I let people who wanted to pay, pay only 68% of what they owed me, 90 days after it was due I would be out of business sharpish too.

Wonga. Wronga?

Today I had the television on in the background while I did some chores around the house and an advert for Wonga caught my eye.  Wonga is a loan company who specialise in relatively low value, very short term loans.  It wasn’t the product which caught my eye – but the eye-watering APR of their products: typically 2689%.  Yep, 2689%.  Wow!

I tweeted about how this was nearly 100x more than my (fairly high APR) credit card.  It turns out that Wonga have a rep on Twitter – WongaWoman.  She replied and explained that their loans are v short term, so I thought I would do a bit of research.

They have a page on their website which is dedicated to explaining why their APR looks so ridiculously high. It goes in to detail about how APR is an annual indication, and that they feel it is unfair to use an annual indication as a comparison, when essentially the products (theirs & a standard loan) aren’t the same.  I sort of agree, but they are obliged to state their APR because of the law, and it does show that if you borrowed this money over a year it would be incredibly expensive.

Credit where it’s due.

To their credit they are very upfront about how much it costs to borrow their money (they give a total repayment figure before you take out loan), and they seem a robust responsible lending policy which sees the amount available to you rise as you use the service.  They are also filling in a gap in the banking sector where the big retail banks don’t operator.  In addition they make a donation to a poverty fighting organisation (Kiva) for every loan they process.  They have one numerous industry awards too by the looks of it; and given their response it’s not like they are trying to hide.

Extortion or Bad APR?

In the wake of the credit crisis many questions were asked about the lending practices of the banks, and more about “payday” loan companies and similar.  There was even moves by several members of parliament to put an absolute maximum APR into law, they cited sample APRs which were not dissimilar to the rate which Wonga charges; and they called it extortion.

Is it really Extortion, or is APR just not a good comparator for these type of loans which do have a different feature set and audience to traditional bank loans?  If we did have a law to stop extortionists and it were to be based on APR how could we still allow legitimate and upfront businesses like Wonga to operate?  Or should we allow lending with such high APRs…

Sample Tax Disc

Tax Discs – Not Worth The Paper They’re Printed On

A couple of things have got me thinking about this antiquated piece of paper lately.

For those reading from abroad I should first explain that a “tax disc” is a round piece of paper which is displayed on every vehicle in the UK, to show that the Vehicle Excise Duty (road tax) has been paid for that vehicle, and when it expires.  In cars it is displayed in the bottom passenger side of the window, and on bikes it is affixed to the vehicle somewhere.

Not needed…

This post was prompted by the fact that when I was recently stopped by the local police they totally failed to notice that I wasn’t displaying one.  Obviously, I have paid my tax – however the tax disc holder fell off my motorcycle within 10 miles of owning it (it was badly affixed).  The dealer is supposed to have replaced it, and that is my defence to the crime of “failing to display a VED disc.”

Now, the two traffic police officers could have failed to check for it because it’s almost technically impossible for my bike to not be taxed owing to the fact it is less than 1 year old and you have to tax a motorbike for 1 year when you register it.  (There is the technical possibility I have sent it back for a refund I suppose!).

More likely though, they knew my bike was correctly taxed (and insured / registered etc) before they even stopped me because the ANPR camera in their car had read my registration plate and checked it on the Police National Computer.  So they didn’t need to look for it.  Making it pointless.

Electronic.

Why can’t we do away with this unsightly piece of paper in my window and the expense of printing them (they have some anti-counterfeiting features), distributing them and replacing them every year.  I renew my car tax online, and will do the same with my bike – the government database is updated immediately.  Even if I chose to tax my car at a Post Office the government database is updated overnight – then I am given a disc and a receipt.  Would a receipt not be enough?

We could even opt in to have the reminder sent by email – perhaps with a paper reminder if you failed to re-tax by the due date (just in case).

Oh, and if you do let the one you have expire and don’t tell the DVLA you have taken the vehicle off the public highway then they will use their electronic records to send you an automated £80 fine, in addition to the duty remaining payable.  They’ll even take you to court if you continually fail to pay.

So, if we can buy one electronically, the police check them electronically, and DVLA enforce the actual duty electronically,  why do we need them?  You can even check yourself online – if you know the registration and make of a vehicle you can check on the DirectGov website as to the status of that cars tax.   I just can’t see a reason for keeping them?

The Exceptions.

VED Exempt
VED Exempt

The other thing which got me thinking about it was the exceptions to the regime.  You very rarely see them, but vehicles being operated by Her Majesty’s Revenue & Custom’s are exempt VED, and display a special disc.  I saw one of these in Leamington about a month ago on a vehicle being used by the UK Borders Agency (they had a sticker in window asking not to be clamped too!!).  These would be very very easy to fraudulently copy if you were so inclined – but of course there’s no point, because the database would still show your car as untaxed.  Police would stop you, and DVLA would still fine you.

Then there is the farce of police vehicles, ambulances, fire engines and historic vehicles – none of which are subject to VED, but all of which has a piece of paper renewed every year in the front window.  Quite literally a total waste of money.

There you are then, if the new government wants a quick easy saving then how about not printed and distributing 34 million pieces of paper each year!?

To WWW or not to do WWW?

Preferring the robot over the human…

Having to type www before most websites you visit isn’t very friendly is it?  While I am well aware of the signficance of the WWW in DNS / network topology terms, it dates back to the days when the internet was largely used by nerds & geeks (takes one to know one!) – the demographic of the average internet user today really couldn’t be much different.

That, coupled with the fact that most websites start with www, just means it’s needless complication to my mind.  Most big companies realise this, and also find it snappier to advertise just their domain.  They will sort it out for you, try it – type microsoft.com, or dell.com, or bbc.co.uk into your browser…. you get the www. version, don’t you?

The www. has been dropped, just like the http:// has been too.

Government Fail

Unless, that is, you’re trying to get at some of the biggest UK government websites.  Take for example Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs – possibly the one agency every citizen has no choice to use.  hmrc.gov.uk fails to resolve.  www.hmrc.gov.uk works fine though.  Same with the Air Accident Investigation Branch, Parliament, Prison Service and counltess others.

I should say, that some do work – and importantly the gateway to government websites, direct.gov does work.

Why would they do this?

Well, it could just be they forget to configure it – either in the DNS for the domain, or the webserver itself.  I’d say that’s lazy or sloppy – every domain I register and host is configured to allow both URLS to be used.

The more likely reason, I think, is duplicate content.  Search engines, especially Google, penalise duplicate content at different addresses – and this will hurt where your site is positioned in the search results.

Canonical Domains.

How can it be duplicate if it is the same content on the same site?  Well, simple – it’s at two different addresses; and so is indexed twice.  It’s duplicate.    For example, these two URLs are different, but the content the same:

www.dft.gov.uk/dvla/forms.aspx
dft.gov.uk/dvla/forms.aspx

The way this should be handled is with URL re-writing or a 301 redirect.  That is the webserver should make sure only 1 version ever appears on the web by changing it and redirecting the user (and thus also Google).  If you go to the second address above, you will find you actually end up at the first one! The DVLA is using a redirect to ensure only one version is available.

This is really simple to set up on both Apache and IIS webservers; and it means your users have a much nicer experience, and who is more important, the bots or the user?….maybe it should be a standard for government departments!

Government Websites

In an age of austerity?  Really?

If you live in the UK you can’t of helped but notice that of late the new Tory / Liberal Democrat coalition government have been cutting anything that stands still for long enough.  We are in an age of austerity apparently.  This has prompted all sorts of clever questions made under the Freedom of Information Act by journalists about government spending, and tech journalists are no exception.

Business Link Logo
£105m Website

The BBC’s leading technology correspondent is Rory Cellan-Jones – he’s generally a very smart fellow and obviously has a number of good connections.  Today he made a blog post about the Business Link website costing £105,000,000 over a 3 year period.

Yes, £105 million pounds for a website.

Clearly there is righteous indignation all round, and outright amazement that a website can cost £105m.  This then prompted a former civil servant who now runs his own consultancy, Simon Dixon, to comment on what he felt Rory had missed.

How?

In short, Simon says it can cost £35m a year to run a website because:  it can.

And scarily, he’s right.  While I have no experience in the public sector I have seen the same thing happen in the private sector but usually only in large corporations.

I think the reason for it is a little different to that which Simon suggests (that it is because big consultancys get involved and the money is there).  I think its because we get involved in my pet hate:  I.T. for I.T.’s sake.  This is when we, as IT professionals do things because we believe thats how they should be done, or because we want a new tech on our CV, or its the current “favourite”,  forgetting the core purpose of what our client wants.

We should be about helping our clients (be they public or private sector) improve their output, or achieve their goals in the most cost effective way.  One of the comments on Simon’s blog just about sums it up for me:

Factor in the endless box-ticking requirements generated by the ITIL and PRINCE2 job-creation methodologies…

Clearly I dont think any sane person would argue against having “best practices” and “methodologies” which allow us to get our jobs done in the most effective way.  But do the likes of ITIL and PRINCE2 really do that?    In my experience the problem with them is that they are too generic and allow themselves to be bent by persons various to suit whatever aim they currently have… do they result in better IT projects?  Yes, mainly.  But do they result in our clients producing widgets more efficiently, or getting information out better?  Only as a bi-product.

A place for everything and everything in its place.

Controlled Whining?

A little while ago I mentioned in another post, about a visit to Birmingham Radar, that one of the things which pilots of GA aircraft in the UK like to moan about the most is the refusal of clearance to cross controlled airspace, and “land grabs” by airports for more airspace.  As I touched on in my earlier post I have never had a problem with controlled airspace, and the flying I did this weekend only serves to reinforce what I said about thinking about what you want, and getting in touch early.

It’s only Control.

The key thing to remember is that, with one or two exceptions, the airspace around larger airports is only controlled by the airport, it’s not ‘their’ airspace per-se.  The airspace is established to allow the airport to carry out its commercial operations in as safe and efficient manner as possible – providing them with a “known traffic” environment.  To do this, they rely on a statutory instrument to create airspace which you can’t enter without the permission of the controlling authority – usually the airport.  However, they have to have a reason to refuse you access to the airspace – not just that you’ll make their life a little hard for the short time you’re in it.   I believe they are obligated by the CAA to collate statistics on how many refusals they issue and a reason – certainly if you are ever refused then ring the unit afterwards and discuss why.  They might be able to suggest a routing which suits them better next time, but they’ll certainly explain themselves.

Sunday.

On Sunday I wanted to fly three friends into a party at another friends house which has more than sufficient space for a helicopter.  No problem then you’d think – until I remember that his house is approximately 3 miles along the extended centre line of Birmingham’s Runway 15.

Hampton Landing Site & EGBB
Hampton Landing Site & EGBB

So, on Saturday while I was planning this I telephoned the tower at Birmingham to see what their thoughts were, and / or if they had any preferred routing etc.  I spent about 10 minutes talking to the watch manager who said it was his watch on duty when I wanted to land, so he’d fill a strip out in advance and let the controller know what I planned.  He said it shouldn’t be a problem, but I might be routed initially towards the NEC and asked to hold while they found me a gap.

As it happened, I was routed straight in, and I flew two circuits of my site (to complete the confined area procedure of 5S’s) and landed.  There was an Emirates Boeing 777 taxying to the end of the runway as I was approaching and he may have been delayed by a minute or so while I landed, but the controller managed my timing very well!

I was given a clearance for departure in case I couldn’t establish two way radio while on the ground – in fact a generous one – not above 500′, remain to east of centre line.  When departure came I actually established two way radio easily and was offered a departure direct to my destination (actually via some more controlled airspace at Luton!).

Whining.

Once again then I managed a flight which involved not only the transit of, but also the landing in controlled airspace; not 3 miles from the end of a major airport’s runway.  Why?  Well, because I spoke to them early, had thought about what might be asked of me and gave them an air of confidence that I would be safe inside their controlled airspace.

So why do people whine about controlled airspace?  Well, I think some of it comes out of a fear of the unknown – if you learnt to fly in the middle of the countryside surrounded by Class G airspace then controlled airspace can be daunting.  However I think the bigger reason is that pilots like to whine, and we like to feel sorry for ourselves too… summarised by the following statement on a pilots forum yesterday (albeit about another topic):

As ever, we Brits are always happy to put up with being treated badly – so we end up being treated badly.

Everyone loves a whinger, right?