Reports in recent months of drones flying alarmingly close to aircraft have once again focused the spotlight on the issue of drone regulation. The increased demand for and availability of drones, as well as the rapid advancement of technology, have led to growing safety and regulatory concerns.

Ireland became one of the first countries in Europe to address these concerns with the introduction of two statutory instruments on 18 December 2015. The Irish Aviation Authority Small Unmanned Aircraft (Drones) and Rockets Order, 2015 (the "Regulation Order") and the Irish Aviation Authority (Nationality and Registration of Aircraft) Order, 2015 (the "Registration Order") now contain the bulk of the regulatory requirements for drones.

Regulation

The Regulation Order sets out a number of limitations for operating drones having a maximum take off mass of 150kg or less. A drone must not be flown in a manner that causes hazard to another aircraft, in the vicinity of aircraft maneuvering in an aerodrome, or in a reckless or negligent manner. The drone operator is required to ensure that the drone is able to take off and land without undue hazard to persons or property and without affecting the rights of the property-owner. Crucially, drones must always give way to manned aircraft.

Before operating a drone which weighs more than 4kg and less than 25kg, the operator must have successfully undertaken a course on safety training accepted by the IAA. Unless the permission of the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) is obtained, a drone which weighs less than 25kg may not be flown:

  • Within a prohibited area or controlled airspace such as prisons or urban areas
  • Within 5km of an aerodrome during periods of aircraft operations
  • Within 30m from a person, vessel, vehicle or structure not under the direct control of the operator
  • More than 120m above ground or water level

A drone weighing between 25kg and 150kg may not be flown without the prior permission of the IAA.

Under the Regulation Order the IAA has the power to:

  • Conduct appropriate investigations or inspections in respect of an incident or other occurrence that caused or could have caused danger to aircraft
  • Detain an aircraft
  • Access documents or records and may revoke, limit or suspend any permission, authorisation or exemption issued under the Regulation Order

Registration

Since 21 December 2015, a drone weighing between 1kg and 25kg (which includes attached equipment) is required to be registered with the IAA under the Regulation Order. Drones weighing in excess of 25kg must be registered in a similar manner to manned aircraft.

It is important to also be aware of the obligation on drone operators to comply with data protection legislation. See our previous article here

Amid growing concerns for both public safety and privacy rights, in January 2016, the Regulation of Drones Bill 2016 (the "Bill") was introduced to further regulate the use of drones. For example, the Bill provides for the specific offence of using a drone to photograph, video or conduct surveillance of another person’s home. The Bill has not yet progressed beyond the initial stage and is likely to be subject to further debate and amendment as it passes through a potentially lengthy legislative process. Nonetheless, with the use of drones likely to increase sharply, the Bill's introduction highlights that further regulation of their usage is both necessary and to be expected.