Amateur drone users unable to get insurance in Ireland

Neither of the country’s two drone insurance providers covers amateurs or hobbyists

Most commercial drone work in Ireland is being carried out by the television and film industries. Photograph: Reuters

Most commercial drone work in Ireland is being carried out by the television and film industries. Photograph: Reuters

 

Hobbyist and amateur drone users cannot secure insurance in Ireland even though the aviation regulator recommends every owner should be covered.

As the number and popularity of drones increase so too does the uncertainty around the nature and frequency of potential accidents and who will be liable to pay for the damage.

However, to date Ireland has just two drone insurance providers both of which are underwritten by UK-based firms and neither of which offer policy quotes to amateurs or weekend hobbyists. Both say queries from amateur users are rare.

Third-party policies

Rather, policies are limited to commercial entities and businesses which employ drones, and trained pilots, for varying uses. Third-party policies begin at about €400 although prices have fallen in recent years from a basic level of about €700.

The Irish Aviation Authority (IAA), which has recently overhauled regulations governing drone flight, has no rules on insurance policy but in its official guidelines “recommends that everybody who operates a drone has insurance”.

It is not known how many, if any, serious accidents involving the unmanned flying machines have occurred in Ireland but their numbers and popularity are growing. About 6,000 owners are registered with the IAA.

Last November in the UK, a toddler lost his eye after it was sliced in half by the propeller of a drone piloted by a family friend.

While such accidents are likely to be extremely rare, their potential feeds into the fear factor preventing big-name insurance companies from entering the market – the nature and extent of accidents remain something of an unknown quantity.

Few inquiries

“I don’t think any insurer at the moment [will cover hobbyists], you must be operating commercially,” said Derek Balfe, director of dronecover.ie and an experienced drone pilot.

“You get the odd inquiry but the majority are commercial. There are very few who say: ‘I have a drone and I am looking for insurance.’ You could count those inquiries on one hand.”

Crucially, Mr Balfe believes the issue of whether someone is covered under a household insurance policy remains a grey area, one that is likely to be tested by a future claim.

“I would always say to someone: unless you get it in writing, take it that you are not covered,” he said.

Seán Burke of the second provider, Galway-based droneinsurance.ie, said such a future challenge could arise if a provider did not have an explicit “no drone” clause in their household policy.

Mr Burke’s company has seen an increase in commercial queries and policies in line with expanding drone use in Ireland but, like dronecover.ie, does not offer amateur cover.

Hobbyists applying through its website will encounter a filter that offers quotes to businesses only.

“That said, I wouldn’t think there would be a lot of hobbyists that would even consider it,” Mr Burke said.

“Maybe in time you might get some kind of extension to your home insurance.”

Commercial work

Commercial applications have increased alongside the number of operators. Today they include wedding photographers, auctioneers, 3D-imaging firms, land and crop surveyors, and in one instance a quarry which uses its eye in the sky to analyse tonnage following blasting. Most commercial work, however, is being carried out by the television and film industries.

Premiums can rise depending on the nature of work (someone flying over uninhabited rural areas as opposed to petrochemical facilities) and what grade of equipment is attached to the rig.

The IAA said its role is to promote responsible drone ownership. “So it recommends that anybody with a drone gets insurance. It is the responsibility of the drone owner to source appropriate insurance,” it said.