back to article EU aviation agency publishes new drone framework. Hobbyists won't like it

The EU Aviation Safety Agency has formally opined that drone hobbyists should be banned from carrying out beyond visual-line-of-sight flights. If the opinion is adopted, virtually all medium-sized hobby and prosumer drones will be caught by the new EU rules, effectively turning their pilots into criminals – unless they …

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  1. tiggity Silver badge

    Drone makers rush

    ...to produce 249.9 g drones for casual users to get around these limits

    1. Toilet Duk

      Re: Drone makers rush

      Serious drones are getting lighter and lighter. My Mavic Pro is pretty tiny yet can fly literally for miles, it's beyond line of sight very quickly indeed.

      1. notowenwilson

        Re: Drone makers rush

        "Serious drones are getting lighter and lighter. My Mavic Pro is pretty tiny yet can fly literally for miles, it's beyond line of sight very quickly indeed."

        And the mavic air which has comparable capabilities is 2/3 the weight of the pro

    2. Martin Gregorie Silver badge

      Re: Drone makers rush

      Seems fairly reasonable to me.

      Model flying hat on:

      Members of BMFA affiliated clubs should be able to continue flying as at present, and presumably to operate small drones on the club fiend if the club allows it.

      Recreational pilot hat on:

      The insistence on height limiting systems and unique serial numbers for larger drones is also good. If enforced, these rules mean that I and my fellow pilots are unlikely to meet a drone thats big/heavy enough to cause damage except in a forced landing scenario or in the final stages of landing at a known airfield, which, if it has a published ATZ, is a place where drone operation is already forbidden. However, there is still a potential problem around small private airfields, farm airstrips, microlite and gliding clubs. At least the ID number rules may give us a chance of catching persistent offenders.

      1. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

        @Martin Gregorie

        You seem to be making a distinction between model aircraft and drones.

        Obviously model aircraft have been around for years - I remember a group meeting for flights in a field near my house back in the 1970s, whereas drones are a more recent thing.

        Aside from the fact that drones are seen as problematic and nobody mentions model aircraft so much, what is the distinction? I would have thought that a traditional radio-controlled model aeroplane could pose as much of a risk to a commercial aircraft as a drone if flown irresponsibly.

        1. big_D Silver badge

          Re: @Martin Gregorie

          Model aircraft are generally limited to where you can fly them.

          Certainly, in Germany, they can only be flown at designate model aircraft aerodromes and, I believe, you have to be a member of the club or a guest, and there are defined times and weathers where they can be flown (E.g. only during daylight).

          This means you already have restrictions that see model aircraft not being able to get in the way of real aircraft.

          In Germany drones are treated pretty much as model aircraft. You can only fly them at designated model airfields, over open fields or a couple of other limited places. You cannot fly them (without special permission) over residential areas, commercial and industrial areas, airfields and airports for "real" aircraft, within towns or villages or over private property (which is generally the first 2 anyway).

          You cannot, for example, fly it in your back garden, because that is residential - and if you could, you would have to ensure that any onboard camera was so aimed, that it could not take images of the street or neighbouring properties (especially if there happen to be people on said properties of street).

          1. Bronek Kozicki Silver badge

            Re: @Martin Gregorie

            Also, flying model aircraft (planes or helicopters) is always subject to line-of-sight rules. You are not allowed to fly a model which you cannot clearly see, or which cannot be seen by the assisting ground crew.

          2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

            Re: Certainly, in Germany

            No problem - we can just claim that we are training as glider pilots with our new single engined high performance Messerschmidt "glider tugs"

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          "what is the distinction?"

          The distinction is they never created much trouble, and very few flown them irresponsibly <G>.

          Probably because flying a model aircraft is usually far more difficult than flying a drone, and it attracted mostly aviation enthusiasts which usually abode to existing flying rules, and it was better to fly them when the risk of damaging or losing them was minor. But helicopters, they also take off and land as airplanes, so they need a proper terrain (flat enough grass, or a runaway).

          Moreover they usually didn't have cameras on board, so "peeping Tom" wasn't interested to fly them.

          But of course they may pose the same risks - in the wrong hands an aircraft model is even more dangerous, exactly because it's more difficult to fly, and often use combustion engines. That's why they're included, but overall I think they are still a far smaller threat than drones - yet some drone capabilities like BVR flying could be added to them too, making them a bigger threat.

          1. Mark 85 Silver badge

            Re: "what is the distinction?"

            The distinction is they never created much trouble, and very few flown them irresponsibly <G>.

            Probably because flying a model aircraft is usually far more difficult than flying a drone, and it attracted mostly aviation enthusiasts which usually abode to existing flying rules, and it was better to fly them when the risk of damaging or losing them was minor.

            Since model aircraft are usually built as a labor of love and many of the builders spare no expense on detail, engines, and radio gear, they don't want to lose them to a crash or flying away. Drones... relatively cheap with minor assembly required.

          2. nijam Silver badge

            Re: "what is the distinction?"

            > The distinction is they never created much trouble

            How is that a distinction, unless you are taking anti-drone hysteria as fact?

          3. Zolko

            Re: "what is the distinction?"

            @AC: "Probably because flying a model aircraft is usually far more difficult than flying a drone, ..."

            ... thus any irresponsible model aircraft builder has crashed and destroyed his model before it could become dangerous. Not so with RTF gyro-stabilized BVR quad-copters, that any half-idiot can buy and make fly in minutes anywhere.

        3. Smokewolf
          Flame

          Re: @Martin Gregorie

          Bud, there's a big difference between a FPV-Quadcopter, a model aircraft and a DJI "Drone".

          However it's all the dumb sh!ts with fat wallets that spin up a DJI Drone where they shouldn't that are screwing over the rest of us.

          IMO, commercially built "DJI drones" shouldn't be sold without a license and insurance. (Just like with autos) However the off the shelf, DIY quads / planes should be allowed. Reason being, the the DIY pilot usually spends a lot of time and effort in the crafts construction and thus are less likely to act like complete f@ck-tards. It's this distition that's more of a important factor in the overall safe operation of the craft, than any of the other crap I've read so far.

          Beyond all of this, i feel that the current regulations are more of a focus to regulate and promote the commercial aspect of our hobby. Nevermind that it directly impacts the casual aspects of it and thus limits those that would try it.

          1. @thecoda

            Re: @Martin Gregorie

            "IMO, commercially built "DJI drones" shouldn't be sold without a license and insurance. (Just like with autos) However the off the shelf, DIY quads / planes should be allowed. Reason being, the the DIY pilot usually spends a lot of time and effort in the crafts construction and thus are less likely to act like complete f@ck-tards."

            Stuff and nonsense!

            I don't have a fat wallet, but I *am* a keen photographer/videographer. I saved hard for a Mavic so I could get something small enough to easily transport and add arial footage to my work. I want the minimisation that comes with bulk manufacturing, the sort of camera that's hard to source as a discrete component, software + hardware that "just works", and the confidence of having a manufacturers warranty.

            I generally fly it slowly for the smoothest possible footage, and on occasion would love to be able to go out of visual range - especially if I'm e.g following a river at low level.

            Just because I didn't hand-build something twice the size, with an inferior camera, and which doesn't fold down smaller than a bag of sugar... you now believe that I should be forced to pay the same price of the drone again for the only currently-available license? Screw that!

      2. 2+2=5 Silver badge
        Joke

        Re: Drone makers rush

        > Members of BMFA affiliated clubs should be able to continue flying as at present, and presumably to operate small drones on the club fiend if the club allows it.

        Is having a 'club fiend' a requirement of the BMFA or does model flying attract that kind of person naturally?

      3. bombastic bob Silver badge
        Devil

        Re: Drone makers rush

        "Seems fairly reasonable to me."

        as someone who apparently flies model aircraft AND people-driven aircraft, I think your opinion should carry a lot of weight.

        After a cursory look at the article, I didn't see anything really bad, either. Local authorities being able to exempt flying clubs and specific locations is probably the BEST part, since it avoids the "top down dictatorial way" of handing down regulations, which rarely (if ever) really fixes a problem everywhere, equally.

        And if you can't see the thing flying, it's not a bad idea for you to need some kind of 'pilot creds' to fly a drone outside of visual range.

        The FAA could do something very similar and I'd be happy with it.

    3. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: 249.9g drones

      There will be no such rush. A 250g drone can be blown around in a light breeze and with both present and probable-near-future battery technology it is unlikely to have the power needed to resist that. If you fly it at anything over 10m, such a breeze is almost certainly blowing on all but the most windless days.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: 249.9g drones

        "There will be no such rush."

        The OP said the rush would be drones for casuals users. Casual users, 10m and a fairly still day sounds like a pretty big market to rush to fill.

  2. SkippyBing Silver badge

    EASA

    Slightly confused why EASA are giving the height limit in meters when as far as I can tell everyone they regulate uses feet for height, altitude, and flight levels.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: EASA

      Most likely because its European documentation and they tend to be a few centuries more modern. It's for others to decide if they downgrade.

    2. imanidiot Silver badge

      Re: EASA

      Some GA (gliders, balloons, paragliders and hangliders mostly) and model aircraft pilots often use meters, not feet.

      1. Ptol

        Re: EASA

        All air activity altitude in the UK should be in feet. Our airspace maps show all the altitudes in feet based numbers, even FL ones which are really air pressure based.

        As a paraglider pilot, i used feet in the UK, and then usually switched to using meters in the alps, as that was how the local air restrictions were displayed.

    3. macjules Silver badge

      Re: EASA

      "EU Aviation Safety Agency"

      Slightly uneasy about any EU agency that uses the word 'Safety' in it's title: it usually means the exact opposite.

      1. Thicko

        Re: EASA

        Steady friend. I believe that you are confusing the EU with Brexit Britain!

      2. SImon Hobson Silver badge

        Re: EASA

        Slightly uneasy about any EU agency that uses the word 'Safety' in it's title: it usually means the exact opposite.

        Don't know why you got so many downvotes - those of us who have followed things would agree with you. EASA started off from the position of "existing regulations weren't invented here - must have ALL new ones". And so for quite a few years they set about reinventing lots of wheels, with a mindset of "more regulation == better" - while seemingly oblivious to the fact that a 4 seat light aircraft (think Ford Ka) used for recreation doesn't need the same regulatory regime as the larger commercial transports (think inter-city trains). It's massively increased costs for almost everyone in GA, driven many businesses to the wall, and reduced flying hours for most which actively reduces safety by having pilots with less current practice.

        They've also refused to adopt the UK's IMC (Instrument Meteorological Conditions) rating for mostly political reasons - not wanting to have "country specific" ratings even though they adopted some (eg altiport ratings). Only recently have they considered anything remotely similar.

        So yes, you are right to be sceptical - EASA have directly caused a reduction in safety in GA (General Aviation), the light end of the market.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: EASA

      > why EASA are giving the height limit in meters when as far as I can tell everyone they regulate uses feet for height, altitude, and flight levels.

      Not so. Different flying communities in different countries, even in EASA-land, use different units. E.g., glider pilots in the continent tend to use metres and km/h while motor pilots in the exact same bit of airspace may be using feet and knots. In the UK, recreational aviation tended to use QFE while commercial flying was strictly QNH.

      I know hardly anything about drones, but I have a feeling they use metres as their preferred vertical units.

      1. SkippyBing Silver badge

        Re: EASA

        'QFE while commercial flying was strictly QNH.'

        QFE and QNH are both measured in feet they just use a different reference point. QFE is generally used in the circuit as the altimeter reads 0 on the runway, QNH is used everywhere else as it reads height above the sea which is what obstacles are measured from. Once you're above 3000' (varies by country) you go onto the standard pressure setting which makes it easy for ATC to coordinate everyone.

        Looking at it, people who talk to ATC seem to use feet, which makes sense as the they're a useful size, eg 1000 feet gives decent separation and is easy to read multiples of on an altimeter. Stacking aircraft at increments of 300m wouldn't be as intuitive to fly.

        1. Chris Parsons

          Re: EASA

          I'm amazed some twat found it necessary to downvote your factual post.

          A fellow pilot.

      2. notowenwilson

        Re: EASA

        "I know hardly anything about drones, but I have a feeling they use metres as their preferred vertical units." It's the beauty of having purely software defined instrumentation that changing between one and the other is just a matter of changing a setting in the config menu. I dare say people just change that to what they are comfortable with.

    5. Chrissy

      Re: EASA

      To confuse the issue further, the CAA mashes imperial and metric together when defining VFR viz and weather minima:

      https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/536223/RA2307_Issue_7.pdf

      Below FL 100:

      When IAS 250 kts or more:

      - 8 km flight visibility

      - 1500m horizontally from cloud

      - 1000ft vertically from cloud

      When IAS 250 kts or less:

      - 5 km flight visibility

      - 1500m horizontally from cloud

      - 1000ft vertically from cloud

      I have been in a glider that had ASI reading in knots, an altimeter reading in feet and a variometer reading in metres/sec.

  3. DaveTheForensicAnalyst

    EASA - Early Adoption Services Accounts

    CAA - Cash Always Accepted

    Trust me, there will be a litany of charges associated with hobby users for this, I've not met a policy that has come of of EASA, and picked up by the CAA that hasn't cost the end user money.

  4. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    It's a euro plot

    To ban cricket.

    Cricket balls can be thrown at over 100mph (except by English bowlers) and have a mass of 162g = that's 160J of potential impact ke.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: It's a euro plot

      Yeah, but they still fly low enough. I wouldn't like to be struck by a cricket or baseball ball while flying...

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Let me guess - Brexit changes nothing ?

    I guess that the UK would be required to adhere to these guidelines or else EU flights won't fly in UK aispace ?

    Yet another example of the faux "sovereignty" the UK is supposed to reclaim.

    (I write that as a someone who wants to Remain in the EU. But it highlights what an empty victory "leaving" is).

    1. Jon 37

      Re: Let me guess - Brexit changes nothing ?

      We have announced that we want to remain in the EU air safety system, so if we manage to sign the deal we want then Brexit will change nothing, except we may or may not get a say in future changes to the regulation depending on how good a deal we get.

      If we end up with no deal and a hard Brexit by default, then we could do whatever we wanted.

      Remember that the EU does not have to agree any deal, they can just point at us and laugh. And the recent trade deal with Canada was delayed because one region in Belgium opposed it. Every EU country had to approve it, and the Belgian rules meant that every region in Belgium had veto power over the Belguim government's approval of the treaty, which in turn had to delay the entire treaty until they could be persuaded to change their minds. Presumably the EU-UK deal may be delayed/vetoed in the same way.

      1. Christoph Silver badge

        Re: Let me guess - Brexit changes nothing ?

        "Every EU country had to approve it"

        Including Poland. Who see reports in their newspapers every time someone in England decides to attack Polish people in the streets.

      2. MonkeyCee Silver badge

        Re: Let me guess - Brexit changes nothing ?

        "and the Belgian rules meant that every region in Belgium had veto power over the Belguim government's approval of the treaty"

        That's not quite correct. You are implying that there is "a" Belgium government, which a regional group held up.

        Belgium in fact has no less than six governments, all of which are legally equal, three cover geographic areas (Walloon, Flanders and Brussels) the others cover communities (French, German and Dutch speaking).

        So what happened was the Belgium government objected, and the process was held up until that was resolved.

        If the UK ever devolves actual power to Scotland, Wales and NI, then exactly the same thing could happen. But Whitehall is never going to give away power, so I don't expect any equality of governance any time soon.

        Oh, and while the Belgium system might seem screwy, they did manage to deal with the financial crises best, since their various governments couldn't actually agree on what to do, they did nothing, and turns out that's much better than austerity.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Let me guess - Brexit changes nothing ?

      > I guess that the UK would be required to adhere to these guidelines or else EU flights won't fly in UK aispace

      They would, and vice-versa too, but it would make things a lot more expensive / complicated for everyone concerned, and with the EU-US agreement from a few years back having resulted in rather close EASA-FAA cooperation and serious harmonisation of the rules across the Atlantic (nowadays we even tend to use the same terminology for the same things), it would be a death sentence for the UK aviation industry if some bright spark politician decided to come up with their own rules because of whatever posturing their public relations people may advise.

  6. imanidiot Silver badge
    Stop

    Stop fearmongering

    Most of what EASA is proposing as far as airspace restrictions here is ALREADY illegal in most countries. BVLOS specifically is ALREADY illegal in most countries including Britain, see: http://www.caa.co.uk/Consumers/Unmanned-aircraft/Recreational-drones/Recreational-drone-flights/

    Article 94 small unmanned aircraft, paragraph 3:

    (3) The person in charge of a small unmanned aircraft must maintain direct, unaided visual contact with the aircraft sufficient to monitor its flight path in relation to other aircraft, persons, vehicles, vessels and structures for the purpose of avoiding collisions.

    Then the comment:

    "El Reg predicts that any BVLOS ban will be effectively ignored until it becomes convenient to enforce it against particular people, or categories of people – which is the foundation of a bad law."

    I really don't get what you are trying to imply here? Who are these "particular people or categories of people" you are alluding to?

    The problem in general is that enforcing BVLOS banns is practically impossible. Unless you happen to catch someone with their goggle on, or manage to track a drone to it's landing zone and apprehend the person flying it, there's nothing lawmakers can do.

    This Opinion really isn't that bad. As far as EASA Opinions go it's actually quite readable and understandable (in direct opposition to some of the drivel they've written before about the new ATO regulations for instance)

    Most relevant to most people will be the following passages:

    It was decided to further subdivide operations in the ‘open’ category into three subcategories to allow different types of operations without the need for an authorisation. The subcategories were defined according to the risks posed to persons and objects on the ground, keeping in mind that the operations would all be below 120 m in height and far from aerodromes. These subcategories are:

    - A1: flights over people but not over open-air assemblies of persons;

    - A2: flights close to people, while keeping a safe distance from them;

    - A3: flights far from people.

    (Opinion No 01/2018, page 8)

    And a little bit further on:

    Model aircraft are within the scope of this Opinion since, pursuant to the definition of a UA in the new Basic Regulation, a model aircraft is a UA. It is, however, recognised that activities conducted within model aircraft clubs and associations have good safety records due to their high levels of organisation, their procedures and their safety culture.

    For this reason, the proposed regulation allows competent authorities to issue an operational authorisation to model aircraft clubs and associations, in which they may define deviations from it.

    In addition, this proposal offers two other possibilities to model aircraft pilots who do not intend to

    join a model aircraft club or association. They may:

    - operate in specific zones designated by MSs, in which MSs can alleviate the requirements of the

    rules proposed in this Opinion; or

    - operate in subcategory A3 of the ‘open’ category.

    Operations in subcategory A3 may be conducted with privately built UAS, or UAS in class C3 or C4. This last class was specifically developed to address model aircraft available on the market, imposing a minimum set of technical requirements and focusing mainly on providing the remote pilot with operational instructions issued by the UAS manufacturer, as well as on raising the remote pilot’s awareness of the EU regulations through consumer information. This approach will create a negligible additional burden for UAS manufacturers. All model aircraft in use before the date of entry into force of this proposed regulation will also be able to be operated afterwards, still using one of the three options explained above (i.e. to be member of a model aircraft club or association, to operate in designated areas, or to follow the operational limitations for subcategory A3), without the need for any modification to the model aircraft.

    In other words, keep it in sight (already law) and don't fly near built up areas, over crowds or where you could reasonably endanger uninvolved people (further explanation in the Opinion, 2.4.3.2. , page 18) which should just be f(*îng common sense.

    Again, the rules proposed are pretty clear, and don't go way above and beyond what is already law in most EU countries. My main gripe would be with the limitations they are imposing on control electronics and where they draw the line between stabilisation/auto-hover features and "autonomous operation"/autopilot. NOT with the airspace restrictions that our esteemed Reg hack seems to be focused on.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Stop fearmongering

      > It is, however, recognised that activities conducted within model aircraft clubs and associations have good safety records due to their high levels of organisation, their procedures and their safety culture.

      I haven't read the Opinion but if it does say that, I am glad that the model flyers get a little mention in despatches, as it were. I've never flown a model aircraft nor would I be capable of flying one but I used to be a commercial pilot and I'm still actively involved in commercial air transport, and I've always held those guys in high esteem and appreciated their enthusiasm for their hobby. Many of my former colleagues were big-time model A/C anoraks when they were not flying the full-size ones for a living, too. :-)

      1. imanidiot Silver badge

        Re: Stop fearmongering

        It does actually say that. The the bits in the <blockquotes> are a direct copy-paste from the EASA document.

        In my experience so far the EASA boards involved in GA and "small" aviation aren't actually the enemy. Many of them share our enthusiasm for all things flying and a lot of EASA regulations are actually not that bad. Some of it is even good. There's some shitty stuff in there, and some rather incomprehensible stuff, but there's also a lot of good regulations too. Often also more clearly worded and better explained than national laws currently in force.

  7. Duncan Macdonald Silver badge

    Home use

    What is the reasoning against a home owner using a drone to inspect parts of his/her property that are difficult to examine from the ground (eg roofs, gutters etc)? This is banned by the no flying over residential property rule. In my opinion the rule should be amended to no flying over residential property without the permission of the property owner.

    1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: Home use

      "In my opinion the rule should be amended to no flying over residential property without the permission of the property owner."

      I think the current rule in the UK is no flying within X metres of buildings without the permission of the owner. So unless you also own all your near-neighbours' properties you cannot fly. (Perhaps someone can tell me the value of X.)

      The rationale is probably partly that when a drone goes out of control it doesn't necessarily crash into the building it was inspecting, and partly that a drone with a camera doesn't need to be right over a property in order to invade privacy.

      1. Duncan Macdonald Silver badge

        Re: Home use

        It is worse than that - no flying within 50m of any property not owned or controlled by the drone operator (even if you have permission from the other property owners!!).

        The current rules for hobby use can be summed up as - you cannot legally fly a drone in the vast majority of the UK unless you own a large estate or farm and confine your drone to that estate or farm.

        (See https://www.techadvisor.co.uk/feature/gadget/where-fly-drone-in-uk-3620507/ for more details.)

        1. DropBear Silver badge

          Re: Home use

          "you cannot legally fly a drone in the vast majority of the UK"

          ...and that's why the law will be universally ignored - as all laws impossible to realistically comply with always silently are - and will get enforced opportunistically, as a blunt object to throw against whoever the fuzz happens to take a dislike to, exactly as mentioned. Let's be very clear about this - IT'S NOT "IF", IT'S "WHEN". Also, I consider "go join a club if you want to fly" as nothing but an unapologetic middle finger and definitely reply in kind.

          1. Loud Speaker Bronze badge

            Re: Home use

            I am quietly confident the plod can't tell a joule from Jules Holland, and I doubt I can do much better. However, I have a good idea what 1.2kg hitting me at 18m/s would feel like, and I don't want it.

            I have flown a small drone (under 250gms) , as have others of my family, and it is pretty hard to predict who will get hit next.

        2. Adam Wynne 1

          Re: Home use

          " you cannot legally fly a drone in the vast majority of the UK unless you own a large estate or farm and confine your drone to that estate or farm."

          Yep, works for me :)

        3. Smokewolf

          Re: Home use

          It suddenly just became a hobby for the rich, just like everything else.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    nano-tech

    well, not literally "nano", but since we (well, "the boys") already have these:

    http://imagesvc.timeincapp.com/v3/foundry/image/?q=60&url=http%3A%2F%2Fd254andzyoxz3f.cloudfront.net%2Fvquk2nbfudxaxxmimd7l.jpg

    and the race to get down in size is on, as usual, civilian (commercial) application will follow. I wonder how soon we'll see (or not ;) knife missiles. Ian Banks would have been a billionaire to have patented round corners for these :/

    1. Smokewolf

      Re: nano-tech

      Anything under 250g or uses under 5" propellers is all but unflyable in winds above 5-10 kpm.

      These craft simply don't have the thrust or battery life to make flying outdoors worth a hobbyists time.

      Granted there are some exceptions but commercially not many, unless you build it yourself. Even then I'm sure there is something to will get you cited.

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