In recent times, the use of drones or ‘unmanned aerial vehicles’ in both the private and commercial spheres has increased significantly, so much so that the Data Protection Commissioner has recently issued a guidance note on the data protection considerations relating to the use of drones (see here for further information). However, data protection is just one area of law which is relevant to the deployment of drones. There are a number of other regulatory requirements of which a drone user must be cognisant when flying a drone in Ireland (whether for commercial or private purposes).
These other regulatory requirements are, for the most part, set out in two statutory instruments, made under the Irish Aviation Authority Act, 1993 (the “Act”), which commenced in 2015 under the aegis of the Irish Aviation Authority (the “Authority”):
- Small Unmanned Aircraft (Drones) and Rockets Order 2015 (SI 563 of 2015) (the “Drones Order”); and
- Irish Aviation Authority (Nationality and Registration of Aircraft) Order 2015 (SI 107 of 2015) (the “Registration Order”)
The Drones Order
The Drones Order sets out the rules relating to the use over Ireland of rockets and “small unmanned aircrafts”, which is defined as unmanned aircrafts or drones without a human pilot on board with a mass of less than or equal to 150 kilograms. Drones which are below certain minimum specifications with respect to mass, materials of construction and height of operation are excluded from the application of the Drones Order.
The Drones Order imposes a range of restrictions on the manner and locations in which a small unmanned aircraft may be operated without obtaining the permission of the Authority. These include prohibitions on operating a small unmanned aircraft, without the permission of the Authority:
- where it will cause a hazard to another aircraft;
- within a prohibited area, restricted area or controlled airspace; or
- within 30 metres from a person, vessel, vehicle or structure not under the direct control of the operator.
A drone which has a mass of between 25 kilograms and 150 kilograms may not be flown without the permission of the Authority, which the Authority may issue subject to conditions with which the relevant operator must comply.
The Drones Order also imposes a requirement that an operator of a drone having a mass of between 4 kilograms and 25 kilograms must successfully complete a safety training course approved by the Authority.
The Authority has the power under the Drones Order to prevent any drone from flying if it appears that the drone will be flown in contravention of the Drones Order, the Act or any orders or directions thereunder. The Drones Order also confers a range of investigation and detention powers on the Authority.
Regulation 7 of the Drones Order makes it mandatory for all drones over 1 kilogram to be registered in a manner established by the Authority. More information on the Authority’s system of registration can be found here.
The Authority has indicated that unmanned aircraft of over 25 kilograms are required to be registered with the Authority under the Registration Order. The Registration Order prohibits, except where an exemption has been granted by the Authority, the flight of any aircraft unless it has been properly registered and appropriately marked according to the provisions of the Registration Order.
The Authority may cancel or alter the registration of an aircraft in a variety of circumstances including where there has been a contravention of the Registration Order or the Authority considers that it is not in the public interest that the aircraft continues to be registered.
Mandatory Reporting Requirements
In addition to the above, in an EU law context, it has also been recently clarified that the EU regime for the mandatory reporting of certain civil aviation occurrences set out in EU Regulation No 376/2014 also covers remotely piloted aircraft systems.