back to article Brit airline pilots warn of drone menace

The British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA) has demanded action to control the use of drones following "a spate of serious near misses" over UK airports. The latest UK Airprox Board report (PDF) describes seven incidents involving drones, of which four fell into the most serious category A, "where a serious risk of …

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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I hope you drone pilots have decent insurance

    for when your toy downs an aircraft and the lawyers come at you a force this is akin to the barrage that was the prelude to the D-Day landings.

    1. theModge

      Re: I hope you drone pilots have decent insurance

      Not really: Suppose I bring a plane down with a drone. I have some modest personal savings (actually modest, I quit the real world to be a PhD student) and a car to my name. No house. No millions of pounds worth of assets. The most compensation they can get out of me wouldn't cover an entire day of airline legal team time. They'd go for the drone manufacturer, who say the instructions told him not to do it.

      On the other hand, the police would, hopefully, have me behind bars for a plane full of manslaughter charges, so even leaving aside morals it's still probably best avoided.

      1. Adam 52 Silver badge

        Re: I hope you drone pilots have decent insurance

        Why manslaughter? The vast majority of UK airspace is class G "see and avoid". That responsiblity goes both ways.

        1. Chris Parsons

          Re: I hope you drone pilots have decent insurance

          If you're a pilot - I am - I seriously suggest you reread your Air Law books. Apart from anything else, most airspace around airports is Class A, and as I look at my chart of Southern England, I don't see an awful lot of uncontrolled airspace.

      2. James 47

        Re: I hope you drone pilots have decent insurance

        Are you tripping balls pal?

        1. Adam 52 Silver badge

          Re: I hope you drone pilots have decent insurance

          Might I suggest reading up on the law -http://www.cps.gov.uk/legal/h_to_k/homicide_murder_and_manslaughter/#manslaughter

          Manslaughter requires a duty of care, gross negligence *and* an unlawful act. In the hypothetical situation proposed there's only one of these not all three.

          Might also be worth learning some basic aviation law principles and studying an airspace map, too many assume that airports have a monopoly on their approach and departure routes and it just isn't true (although there's a lot more class D than there used to be).

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: I hope you drone pilots have decent insurance

            too many assume that airports have a monopoly on their approach and departure routes and it just isn't true (although there's a lot more class D than there used to be).

            But we have from reckless endangerment all the way to pre-meditated murder to use when a plane goes down due to a drone. It's not like it's a secret that flying a drone in a flightpath with nice sucking jet engines is not one of the smartest things to do now, is it? Heck, given the potential carnage you better don't do that with a suntan and a beard or you may end up with terrorist charges instead.

            If you get nabbed for flying a drone near an airport I won't feel sorry for you. As a matter of fact, if I see you I may even entertain myself by reporting you. And if I've just landed myself and I find it was your drone in my flight path there would possibly be no further need for a trial as I suspect disassembled lithium batteries and bits of drone and anal tracts don't mix.

            1. Adam 52 Silver badge

              Re: I hope you drone pilots have decent insurance

              I'm guessing that you're an American, we don't have "reckless endangerment" in England and Wales. I know you tend to assume that your laws apply worldwide but that isn't the case.

              Sure, if it does happen the baying mob would force the CPS into applying the "ways and means act". And the crowd pleasing politicians would stir the fire and play on the victim's deaths. As someone who likes to cling on to the fantasy of rule of law I find that disappointing.

              Not condoning reckless flying of drones near airports. It'd be stupid and criminal tofly in an ATZ and some controlled airspace. But the London CTA covers a millions of people's back gardens, it's unreasonable for BALPA to want me to keep out of my own garden. Similarly my back garden is on the approach to Luton and is class G. I should be able to fly in my garden because anything going into Luton should be at least 3000ft above me.

              I have been on airline training courses where they teach the pilots to concentrate on instruments when flying approaches. That's awful airmanship. Class G is see and avoid and too often the airlines assume right of way because they're big. The responsibility for avoiding collision is shared equally on both parties. In a crash because the pilots were heads-in it'd be the pilots at fault. It's the same mentality that causes bus and HGV drivers to mow down cyclists and motorcyclists.

              We're moving more towards controlled airspace for airline routes. Whilst that's probably safer it cuts off a huge amount of England from GA and sport aviation traffic.

              1. This post has been deleted by its author

              2. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: I hope you drone pilots have decent insurance

                I'm guessing that you're an American, we don't have "reckless endangerment" in England and Wales. I know you tend to assume that your laws apply worldwide but that isn't the case.

                Well, you know what an assumption makes of you - as you are wrong (not a US citizen, and definitely never going to be one). The challenge I have is that I travel, so I have to deal with numerous legal frameworks, each with their own little quirks ranging from "oh, that's not illegal here" (downloading movies in Switzerland) to "we'll publicly whip the skin off your back" (dropping a chewing gum in Singapore) but on Friday's I'm not going to work too hard at satisfying people who focus on detail to avoid the substance of a discussion.

                The point I was making was that there are always framework laws to catch idiots endangering others by the blatant stupidity of their actions, and people operating drones near an airfield certainly fall in that category ("idiots", just in case you lost track). If you want to argue that some *may* indeed know what they're doing, well, they would not be near the airfield other than with solid permission and usually with a link to ground control to ensure they can also be kept out of the way in case of emergencies (an airport readying itself for an emergency CERTAINLY is not the place to f*ck around with dangerous toys hoping to sell images for big bucks).

                I would personally have no problem with anyone declaring the unauthorised/uncleared use of drones near air traffic as equivalent to an act of terrorism. If you consider that harsh I'd keep in mind that you are playing with the lives of hundreds of people in one go, those in the planes up there as well as those left behind when it all goes wrong. Real life doesn't have an undo button.

                too often the airlines assume right of way because they're big. The responsibility for avoiding collision is shared equally on both parties. In a crash because the pilots were heads-in it'd be the pilots at fault. It's the same mentality that causes bus and HGV drivers to mow down cyclists and motorcyclists.

                So, your argument is that a pilot who is on a controlled, carefully planned, mandated and predictable trajectory with quite a few tonnes of machinery and passengers should seek to evade your toy because he'd be otherwise be bullying you? They would be at fault when one of these toys gets sucking into an engine because they suddenly have a "shared responsibility" avoiding a collision with something that should not even *be* there? Really?

                Wow. Did you by any chance inhale some of that printer toner that Alistiar Dabbs was talking about?

                1. Roo
                  Windows

                  Re: I hope you drone pilots have decent insurance

                  "So, your argument is that a pilot who is on a controlled, carefully planned, mandated and predictable trajectory with quite a few tonnes of machinery and passengers should seek to evade your toy because he'd be otherwise be bullying you?"

                  I read his argument as being the Pilots should be paying attention to the skies as well as the instruments in class G airspace, which seems reasonable given that other planes (which may be off course due to stupidity, incompetence or plain old error) and birds might be occupying the same bit of sky too.

                  Here's an example of why pilots of fast moving jet aircraft should be paying attention to what is going on outside the windows (from 1993):

                  "A HELICOPTER pilot and his passenger were killed yesterday in a mid-air collision with an RAF Tornado that was on a long-range, low-flying exercise in Cumbria.

                  The crash happened a few hundred yards from junction 36 of the M6 at Farleton near Kirkby Londsdale. The helicopter is thought to have had its rear rotary blade ripped off before bursting into flames on farmland.

                  The crew of the Tornado were apparently unaware they had hit the helicopter. They lost all power in one engine and reported they had been hit by a flock of birds."

                  I picked that one because it reminded me of the pair of Tornados flying line astern with a couple of hundred yards between them missing our roof by ~20ft having clipped 3ft off a 60ft high tree just 100 yards away. We didn't panic because we didn't have time, I suspect the pilots didn't have time to panic either.

                  1. x 7 Silver badge

                    Re: I hope you drone pilots have decent insurance

                    The Tarleton helicopter crash isn't really a good example.

                    It was due to a combination of a low-level high speed military aircraft, and a helicopter at low level doing an electricity pylon survey. Due to the ground contours, the low levels and the aircraft attitudes both were in each others blind spots. But even if the Tornado pilot had seen the helicopter, at that speed and level there probably would not have been time to take avoiding action.

                    The real cause was the fact that a civilian aircraft was at low level in a military low flying zone, on a flying day. The only thing that could have stopped the crash was a warning to the military by the helicopter inspection team that they intended to be there that day, so enabling the Tornado to reroute.

                    1. Anonymous Coward
                      Anonymous Coward

                      Re: I hope you drone pilots have decent insurance

                      Well, yes, but this is the second time that an attempt was made to avoid the substance of the problem. That drone should not be there. It has no business being inside an environment where planes are trying to perform one of the most dangerous manoeuvres of a flight, landing.

                      You can't expect a landing plane to start planning for possible evasive action because some w*nker thinks having a toy automatically comes with the right to endanger people.

                      Even for the most jaded idiot it is not hard to work out why, and anyone bringing a drone into the flight path regardless is in my opinion welcome to fines that reflect their wilful disregard for the lives of those they so endanger. If said drone gets sucked into an engine or otherwise causes the plane to crash, that should be dealt as somewhere between involuntary manslaughter and mass murder with intent depending on circumstances.

                      Airports and surrounding air corridors should be declared drone free zones, with mandatory jail sentences for people thinking they know better (mandatory jail ensures also the rich kids can't buy their way out of stupidity - anyone trying to use the "affluenza" defence are telling me that they really ought to be permanently locked up in a nice padded room with lost of fun medicine to stop them from further endangering society).

                    2. werdsmith Silver badge

                      Re: I hope you drone pilots have decent insurance

                      "The only thing that could have stopped the crash was a warning to the military by the helicopter inspection team that they intended to be there that day, so enabling the Tornado to reroute."

                      Or the military pilot could have just read the NOTAMs that morning and would have been aware and known when and where to expect low flying helicopters to be in the way.

                      1. x 7 Silver badge

                        Re: I hope you drone pilots have decent insurance

                        "NOTAMs"

                        thats the very point........my memory is shaky (its several years since I read the report) but my belief is that there wasn't a NOTAM that day

                        1. x 7 Silver badge

                          Re: I hope you drone pilots have decent insurance

                          Just found online the summary of the report of the Farleton crash

                          As I thought, there was no notification process in place to advise the military of the presence of the helicopter (which was on a pipeline inspection - not pylons)

                          http://bit.ly/1NMxeb9 -summary report

                          http://bit.ly/1TxmpB2 -full report

                          1. x 7 Silver badge

                            Re: I hope you drone pilots have decent insurance

                            just rereading that full report, and theres some interesting stuff there

                            first they say that to have had a chance to see the JetRanger, the Tornado pilot would have had to be sweeping his head left-right every five seconds, at the same time trying to avoid sightline blocks. On a multi-hour flight, not practical

                            Secondly, the JetRanger would have remained invisible to the Tornado until at earliest 17 seconds before impact. - and more probably just 5 seconds

                            So, if something the size of a JetRanger is damned invisible until its too late to take action, what chance has a pilot of seeing and reacting to a small drone in front of him?

                            All those who are saying its up to the pilot to see and avoid the drone are nothing short of stupid idiots

                            1. Roo
                              Windows

                              Re: I hope you drone pilots have decent insurance

                              "So, if something the size of a JetRanger is damned invisible until its too late to take action, what chance has a pilot of seeing and reacting to a small drone in front of him?"

                              I don't think you can make that argument given that the JetRanger wasn't invisible to the eyeball or the radar carried by the Tornados. It wasn't seen because the Tornado was flying low and very fast, neither aircrew had any chance of reacting in time.

                              1. x 7 Silver badge

                                Re: I hope you drone pilots have decent insurance

                                1) The Tornado was a GR1. NO air-to-air radar. The radar fit is ground imaging only

                                2) The report clearly says that the JetRanger would not have been visible to the Tornado crew until AT MOST 17 seconds before impact. In reality probably 5 seconds. That assumes the pilot wasn't having to look at altimeter data, change radio settings, change engine thrust or one of a myriad other tasks which would have taken his eyes in the wrong direction. In this particular case he was worried that the other Tornado in the formation was on the other side of Tarleton Fell, and the two were likely to be on a collision course when they reached the north end of the fell. His concentration would have been set on that potential impact. In reality whats five seconds? Head down, head up, bang you're dead.

                                Read the report. Its all in there. Along with the fact that the helicopter company had found the reporting advisory scheme unworkable so had abandoned it - so the military had no knowledge of the helicopters presence. So whose blame was it?

                                Read the report before you post again. So at least if you want to spout bullshit, at least its informed bullshit.

                                1. x 7 Silver badge

                                  Re: I hope you drone pilots have decent insurance

                                  sorry I keep typing Tarleton.........of course its Farleton

                                2. Roo
                                  Windows

                                  Re: I hope you drone pilots have decent insurance

                                  "Read the report. Its all in there. Along with the fact that the helicopter company had found the reporting advisory scheme unworkable so had abandoned it - so the military had no knowledge of the helicopters presence. So whose blame was it?"

                                  The report stated that the (widely) "abandoned" scheme was unfit for purpose and one specific to pipeline inspection was created (PINS) as a result of the accident.

                                  Try turning the problem around and looking at it from the Helicopter crew's point of view. There was nothing more they could do to tell the Tornado crew what they were doing (they kept ATC informed), and there was nothing that the Tornado crew did (or could) do to warn the Helicopter crew they were in the area (in real-time).

                                  I am not saying the Tornado crew did anything wrong, but the accident does illustrate that an aircrew that is not engaged with ATC and not paying enough attention to what's going on outside the cockpit is just as much a problem as a numpty drone operator. I did witness a number of near misses between Fast Jets on low-level exercises - it was a known problem long before Farleton.

                            2. Anonymous Coward
                              Anonymous Coward

                              Re: I hope you drone pilots have decent insurance

                              All those who are saying its up to the pilot to see and avoid the drone are nothing short of stupid idiots

                              Well, yes, but we knew that already :)

                    3. Roo
                      Windows

                      Re: I hope you drone pilots have decent insurance

                      "The real cause was the fact that a civilian aircraft was at low level in a military low flying zone, on a flying day. The only thing that could have stopped the crash was a warning to the military by the helicopter inspection team that they intended to be there that day, so enabling the Tornado to reroute."

                      The Tornado was reported to be *off-course*, so there's a good chance they wouldn't have followed the new route in any case.

                      1. x 7 Silver badge

                        Re: I hope you drone pilots have decent insurance

                        "The Tornado was reported to be *off-course*"

                        No such concept as "off course" on a military flying exercise. They have a start point and a destination. There are certain areas which are off-bounds such as big cities. Otherwise at low level they have free reign to go wherever seems best at the time. In this case, one Tornado went west of Farleton Fell, one east. No issues, thats how things work. At the time it was a regular sight. Nowadays they tend to take a more challenging path up the Lune Valley and Lune Gorge, but that's because there are fewer aircraft flying so they can all take the difficult route.

                        In this particular case, they were following a slightly different route and time path than originally intended because Tornado #2 was unable to use its bombing slot at Donna Nook due to conflicting aircraft, so they rerouted to drop some bombs in Scotland instead.

                2. Vic

                  Re: I hope you drone pilots have decent insurance

                  I would personally have no problem with anyone declaring the unauthorised/uncleared use of drones near air traffic as equivalent to an act of terrorism

                  I would.

                  Hoever reckless/idiotic/dangerous it might be to fly a drone near an airfield, it's not an act of coercion, and therefore clearly not terrorism.

                  The problem with using the word to describe everything you don't like is that pretty soon, you cannot differentiate between terrorism and any other sort of law-breaking. Before you know it, all those anti-terror laws become pertinent to day-to-day problems...

                  Vic.

              3. Avatar of They Silver badge
                FAIL

                Re: I hope you drone pilots have decent insurance

                I think the key phrase is "responsibility to avoid collision." typically a jet plane can't "just swerve" to avoid anything. Especially on approach. So all forms of support will be to the airline pilot I would think.

                And I think bringing a plane down with a drone will be a "set an example" type case. The first will be the last with probably domestic terrorism attached (easy to see in current climate) and there won't be much in defence for the drone pilot. Class G or not only a buffoon would assume a plane at that speed and that size can avoid a small light weight white thing, and even if trying to avoid it what else would they hit?

                "Sorry the pilot should have seen my 1kg drone at over a 100 miles an hour and avoided it guv!" I don't think would be anything that washes in a court packed with 300 grieving families.

          2. Intractable Potsherd

            Re: I hope you drone pilots have decent insurance @Adam52

            Sorry, Adam; you have identified only one type of manslaughter (gross negligence manslaughter). There are others, and simply being reckless (not having regard for the dangers of the actions) would be sufficient to get charged. It is always open to the jury to decide that the charge doesn't stick, so conviction isn't certain, but the defendant would have to have a *very* good defence team to show that flying a drone on the approach to an airport wasn't reckless.

  2. Voland's right hand Silver badge

    Registration will not help

    Frankly, the only way of policing them is to patrol with other drones and jam from point blank range (so you can overwhelm any form of remote control including mobile). Failing that follow the violator until you are over an area where you can safely shoot them and shoot them.

    Nothing else like registration, etc will help. That horse has already bolted.

    1. Lysenko

      Re: Registration will not help

      Typical drones use 2.4GHz. Shooting one down with a directional antenna is trivial and harmless to regular aircraft.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Registration will not help

        Shooting one down with a directional antenna is trivial and harmless to regular aircraft.

        I presume you mean jamming it? That may trigger the "go home" routine, which may actually lead it across the very flightpath you're trying to keep clear.

        I'd use that directional antenna in reverse and find whoever needs percussive education - much more productive. I suspect that breaking bits off the right person is more likely to prevent repeat offending than breaking bits off the drone - the parts are harder to replace.

      2. DropBear Silver badge
        Facepalm

        Re: Registration will not help

        And what will you be transmitting - ultra-wide-band noise? My 10cm-wide "don't take it outside unless you're crazy" nano-drone theoretically operating at "2.4GHz" skips around 16 different frequencies many times each second (exactly to help with interference) - and which exactly those are is randomized every time I turn on the transmitter...

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Registration will not help

          And what will you be transmitting - ultra-wide-band noise? My 10cm-wide "don't take it outside unless you're crazy" nano-drone theoretically operating at "2.4GHz" skips around 16 different frequencies many times each second (exactly to help with interference) - and which exactly those are is randomized every time I turn on the transmitter...

          All I have to do is push out a couple of Watts worth of power on those frequencies with a directional antenna and your controller won't be able to get through. I don't need a signal that makes sense, all I need is to remove your control by flooding the receiver.

          However, as I said before, that idea has its own risk, depending on how the targeted drone is set up it either freezes in position until power runs out, or I may trigger a "return to base" routine that may very well lead it exactly in or across the very flight path I'm trying to clear. I much prefer to use that directional antenna to find the controller and deal with the issue in a more permanent way.

          1. Rabbit80

            Re: Registration will not help

            "However, as I said before, that idea has its own risk, depending on how the targeted drone is set up it either freezes in position until power runs out, or I may trigger a "return to base" routine that may very well lead it exactly in or across the very flight path I'm trying to clear. I much prefer to use that directional antenna to find the controller and deal with the issue in a more permanent way."

            Or, the drone may continue on it's predetermined flight path, may act erratically as its control bands are confused or in the case of my 250 quad (as factory configured, not how I have it set now) would keep doing whatever the controls were set at before it lost contact! Radio jamming is a stupid idea with more potential for disaster than just leaving it alone!

          2. Vic

            Re: Registration will not help

            All I have to do is push out a couple of Watts worth of power on those frequencies with a directional antenna and your controller won't be able to get through

            That depends on the kit in question...

            Spread-spectrum transmission has many benefits, including resistance to jamming. That, coupled with its being usable with levels below the noise floor, made it very useful during the war...

            Vic.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Registration will not help

              Spread-spectrum transmission has many benefits, including resistance to jamming. That, coupled with its being usable with levels below the noise floor, made it very useful during the war...

              The chances of a cheap idiot drone being flown with spread spectrum control tech are IMHO exceptionally low, most of these drones fly on channels in the 2.4 GHz region which are easy to flood.

              Otherwise, maybe it's time to start training some more eagles :).

      3. JamesPond
        FAIL

        Re: Registration will not help

        "Typical drones use 2.4GHz. Shooting one down with a directional antenna is trivial and harmless to regular aircraft."

        But not harmless to the poor sod on the ground who's head it drops on from 2000ft

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    BALPA? Coincidently I have a pair of British Sugar Corporation Gilbert-and-Sullivan Society cuff-links.

  4. cd

    Surprised someone hasn't mounted a rotating green laser pointer on one yet. Consider how much damage such a simple thing could bring.

    1. werdsmith Silver badge

      "Surprised someone hasn't mounted a rotating green laser pointer on one yet. Consider how much damage such a simple thing could bring."

      Should make the drone much easier to see and provide some useful warning for pilots to avoid it.

      A rotating beam is much less harmful than a constant one maintained on the retina.

  5. Tom_

    How bad?

    How bad is it likely to be if a passenger jet hits a drone? Don't they test those jets by firing frozen turkeys into the engines?

    1. frank ly Silver badge

      Re: How bad?

      Not frozen, no.

    2. Nolveys Silver badge

      Re: How bad?

      Don't they test those jets by firing frozen turkeys into the engines?

      That's how they test to see if anyone remembered to thaw the turkey.

      1. Triggerfish

        Re: How bad?

        Considering my landing last week consisted of a go around due to winds, and a following landing where the pilot really used all the runway and got a cheer. I'm rather glad he wasn't distracted by something going crunch in the engine or on the cockpit glass.

        1. Rafael 1

          Re: How bad?

          I don't know why the OP was downvoted, and I bet he is not advocating reckless use of drones near airports.

          I have the same question. I guess it would be bad if it enters the turbine, but how bad would that be? And if it hit the cockpit? Any differences if the hit was when the plane was approaching landing?

          Wonder if this is a good what-if to ask Randall Munroe.

          1. Triggerfish

            Re: How bad?

            No it's a fair question.

            To be honest I don't know. You have the inner turbine blades that are strong in some ways but can shatter, design that try and prevents things from getting to them, including how the airflows I think. Plus general plane design to allow a pilot to fly on one engine for example. Hard crunchy components from a drone don't know how different that may be from a bird strike, bird bones might not be as tough.

            But you also have murphys law, you can design as much as you like but you don't actually want it to happen because every time several bits of things randomly hit an engine you can only model to a certain degree the parts paths they would take, every times different maybe one day its hits that thing and does damage no one expected.

            I say in essence emergency features are for emergencies and in practice you work to avoid the instances when they occur before they can occur.

            I would still say the distraction value can be critical as well I was not joking about that landing, the pilot pulled a sharp banking climbing turn above manchester on the pull out, I can't think there's a time there were you want him paying attention to anything other than flying.

            1. Stoneshop Silver badge

              Re: How bad?

              But you also have murphys law, you can design as much as you like but you don't actually want it to happen because every time several bits of things randomly hit an engine you can only model to a certain degree the parts paths they would take, every times different maybe one day its hits that thing and does damage no one expected.

              Indeed. And as United 232 showed, Murohy on his own can nearly down a plane*; you don't want some idiot with a drone helping him.

              * They were both lucky and crafty, giving Murphy the finger, and it only ended like it did because 20 feet above the runway their luck ran out.

          2. Stoneshop Silver badge
            Boffin

            Re: How bad?

            Wonder if this is a good what-if to ask Randall Munroe.

            He does the serious answers to absurd hypothetical questions. This particular problem is far from hypothetical; now maybe if 'What If' would be extended to absurd answers to serious questions would this one be elegible, by for instance suggesting airliners could be fitted with an airbag-like cover with a proximity trigger. There'll be a whole slew of calculations involved like how thick the bag would have to be to keep the average drone from doing damage to the plane itself, and ways to mitigate side-effects like sudden loss of visual on final and the changes in aerodynamic behaviour, so that would make this something right up his alley.

      2. Pete4000uk

        Re: How bad?

        Or a poor cat, as what happened once when a moggy went into the cannon after some fresh meat during the lunch time..

    3. John Robson Silver badge

      Re: How bad?

      The motors on the drone are rather more solid than any single bit of a turkey.

      Whether they are solid enough to shatter a turbine blade every time, or just one in a hundred, is not a question I want answered in the air, but on a test bed:

      YouTube

    4. This post has been deleted by its author

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