Laws to protect against drones must be considered - Donohoe

Privacy cases involving use of camera-fitted devices ‘inevitable’ as sales increase

Chairwoman of the Unmanned Aircraft Association of Ireland Julie Garland, Minister for Transport Paschal Donohoe and the Irish Aviation Authority’s director of safety regulation Ralph James at the association’s inaugural open day at Weston Airport. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Chairwoman of the Unmanned Aircraft Association of Ireland Julie Garland, Minister for Transport Paschal Donohoe and the Irish Aviation Authority’s director of safety regulation Ralph James at the association’s inaugural open day at Weston Airport. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

 

Ireland must consider what safety and privacy laws are required to safeguard the public against the increasing use of drones, Minister for Transport Paschal Donohoe has said.

The use of drones, or remotely piloted aircraft systems, has been increasing with a surge in sales to commercial outfits and amateur hobbyists.

As they increasingly take to the sky, industry insiders are agreed stiffer regulations may be required.

On Friday, the recently established Unmanned Aircraft Association of Ireland (UAAI) held its inaugural “Meet the Drones” open day at Weston Airport in a bid to raise awareness of the high-flying industry.

Speaking at the event, Mr Donohoe said while commercial regulations have existed in Ireland since 2012, there are considerations for the future.

“There is a real need now within Ireland and within Europe to look at what kind of laws will be needed now and in the future to deal with matters in relation to security, in relation to privacy and in relation to how different kinds of units will be regulated,” he said.

There are about 4,000 drones in Ireland and critics say while regulations exist for private users, these are outdated and designed for model aircraft and rockets.

The Irish Aviation Authority is currently involved in a pan-European effort to draw up safety regulations, now at draft stage.

Mr Donohoe said issues of safety, security and privacy were paramount in “a sector that is likely to be gigantic in the coming years”.

He said it is also very likely such devices will be used by companies “quite soon” to deliver goods and services.

While most drones come with built-in programming preventing them from coming within 5km of Dublin Airport their movement is otherwise uninhibited.

‘Ethical use’

Julie Garland, UAAI chair, is a barrister specialising in aviation and drone law who believes privacy cases involving camera-fitted devices are inevitable.

“I have no doubt that it is going to happen. There is no doubt,” she said.

“When we have people on our training courses one of the things that we encourage is very much the ethical use of a drone. If you wouldn’t take the photograph that you are taking with your mobile phone, then you shouldn’t take it with your drone.”

There are 80 commercial licence holders in Ireland, with companies using drones for a variety of reasons including surveying work and aerial filming. Twenty applications are pending.

They must obey data-protection rules and are obliged to treat recorded material much the same way companies store CCTV footage. However, the real concerns surround amateur hobbyists.

Small drones can cost as little as €10, although larger amateur models are typically between €1,400 and €3,500, while commercial units can cost up to €70,000.

Although it takes a couple of months to become proficient, Declan Mullen, director of iFly Technology, said newcomers are quickly airborne.

“You will buy one off the shelf and have it in the air in about a half hour, but [then] you can get a learner driver to move a car in 10 minutes,” he said.