It appears that drone technology, if the pun may be excused, is really starting to ‘take off’. A report of PwC, published in January of this year, indicates that the total global drone market has been valued at more than €120 billion (http://www.pwc.pl/en/publikacje/2016/clarity-from-above-transport-infrastructure.html).
Of this, according to the authors, €42 billion can be attributed to the infrastructure market segment, indicating the significant potential for the commercial application of drone technology. Although the report focuses on road and rail sectors, it is clear that the technology is not limited to these areas (the report suggests the technology could be used in agriculture, security, media & entertainment, insurance, telecommunications and mining), meaning in the not too distant future drones could be employed across many different sectors, giving users a competitive advantage, both financially and operationally.
But what are the ‘flight risks’ associated with this? Many of the legal issues surrounding the use of drones are well known – safety issues, privacy and data protection concerns, liability, etc., and the Irish Aviation Authority have (at least partially) addressed these in recent years by introducing rules regarding their registration and use. But how will these rules apply in the commercial sphere, and are there any specific concerns for businesses seeking to use drone technology?
The first main point to be noted is that the rules set down by the IAA do not distinguish
between the flying of drones recreationally and their use by businesses as part of their day-to-day operations – the same rules apply to both. This means that all businesses, when using drones, will have to comply with the IAA’s rules. The following are the most important.
- Drones greater than 1kg must be registered with the IAA, and drones greater than 25kg may not be flown without the IAA’s explicit permission (drones less than 1kg are not subject to these rules, and aircraft greater than 150kg are not considered ‘drones’).
- Drones cannot be operated so as to cause a hazard to another aircraft, near aircraft maneuvering in an aerodrome traffic circuit or in a ‘negligent or reckless’ manner.
- Drones less than 25kg may not be operated in prohibited areas, farther than 300 metres from the operator or more than 120 metres above ground, or within 30 metres of a person, vessel, vehicle or structure (or within 120 metres of a group of 12 or more persons).
- Drones are not permitted to release any article (or animal) when flying.
- The operator of a drone between 4kg and 25kg must complete an IAA safety training course.
Other than the above, there are obvious concerns regarding the use of drones in terms of privacy, trespass and liability. For example, could a landowner prevent a drone operating over his property, or sue for nuisance? Equally, could evidence secured by drone technology be relied upon in court? Unfortunately, Irish and EU law do not yet have any answers.
Nonetheless, helpful guidance on protecting privacy and data when using drones has been made available by the Data Protection Commissioner and may be found here - https://www.dataprotection.ie/docs/Guidance-on-the-use-of-Drone-Aircraft/1510.htm.
Both disruptive for industry and disrupting for regulators, this technology needs further legal support to maximise its commercial potential. In the meantime, though – fly safe.