The phenomenal growth in the commercial application of drone technology in recent years has led to drones becoming an essential business tool. Their innovative uses in multiple industries ranging from agriculture, transport and infrastructure mean that the potential global marketplace for the commercial use of drones is valued at £96 billion.

We carried out a recent survey with Recent YouGov which reveals the extent to which businesses are putting or intend to put the drones technology to innovative new uses. Over half of senior business decision makers surveyed in the construction and real estate industries believe that drones will be used in their industries in the future. In fact, 16% of construction and 9% of real estate businesses surveyed are already using drones. Despite the uptake, over half of senior business decision makers do not feel knowledgeable about the legal issues which arise from use of the technology

The use of drones is currently regulated by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) but their regulation is fairly limited, dealing with concerns such as the permitted height of flying and proximity to other vehicles or structures. However, businesses considering the use of drones will need to be aware of other issues such as insurance, security, privacy, personal responsibility and trespassing. In the privacy sphere, drone operators will need to ensure that they comply with the Data Protection Act 1998 and consider the risk of collecting images of members of the public without their consent. Of particular concern to landowners, will be the violation of airspace over property which could constitute a trespass.

It is clear that the use of drones in the real estate and construction sectors can be innovative. Various housing associations across the country have been granted permission by the CAA to operate drones over their housing stock to inspect roofs without the need for scaffolding. This has led to significant reductions in estate management costs.

Drones have also been used in connection with development sites, in particular to monitor compliance with planning permissions. Construction firms also regularly use drones to monitor employees’ compliance with health and safety regulations. The scope for potential uses in the real estate and construction sector is vast. However, the area remains highly unregulated and clearer legislative guidance is needed.

Our survey results on business use of drones and the wide range of legal and regulatory issues to consider is in a report available here.