Up until recently, if you mention the word ‘drone’, people immediately thought of military aircraft with destructive or sinister connotations, however, public perception is rapidly changing due to the commercialization of the industry. Although still very much at a grassroots stage, where manufacturers and consumers are experimenting with the many applications for this technology (i.e. agriculture/construction/surveillance/search and rescue/land surveying etc.), we are quickly beginning to see more and more content generated by photographers/videographers who are using the technology to change their perspective of the world, and as a result, change public perception. Flying Drones has turned into a very fun hobby that can also be monetized at the same time for most people.
In recent months, we’ve heard too of plans from Amazon and Alibaba (Asia’s equivalent) to deliver parcels and goods via unmanned vehicles and more recently, insurance companies such as AIG are evaluating their potential. Industries such as agriculture, mining, construction, land surveying and media/entertainment are also quickly realizing the improved efficiency that can be gained from incorporating RPAS into their business structures.
In terms of delivery with drones, it seems their drones aren't taking off soon and not because of technical reasons entirely, but also because of legal issues.
However, with the increase in the number of consumer drones on the market, comes the inevitable increase in concerns from the general public in relation to contentious issues such as public safety and privacy. As such, there is a need for careful regulation, and so policy makers and regulatory bodies are left with a lot of conflicting issues to consider but we are beginning to see a progressive, albeit slow approach to the adoption of this technology in Ireland. In the US however, the use of drones for commercial use is simply banned (with very few exemptions), whilst hobbyist’s are free to fly their drones wherever they wish raising many safety concerns and leaving the industry in somewhat of a grey area.
By European standards, both the Irish and the UK aviation authorities are considered more forward thinking and both have adopted similar approaches with regards to commercial use in a bid to attract business i.e. commercial operators can apply for permits in Ireland, and licenses in the UK.
Having commercial flying permits does seem to come at a cost, especially the cost of drone insurance being one of the more considerable in the mix.
This has therefore placed Ireland in a good position to attract investors on a global scale. In fact, many of those at the forefront of the industry believe that Ireland could be positioned as a hub for this technology, and this was reinforced by Romeo Durscher, formerly of NASA and now Director of Education at DJI (the world’s largest commercial drone manufacturer) who said that “Ireland may just be one of the most forward thinking countries when it comes to the future of this technology“.
In addition, Jay Bregman, former CEO of taxi app Hailo, has joined the drone revolution from a regulatory point of view and has recently set up, Verifly in Ireland, which is essentially a drone registration system and geospatial framework – a tool which regulatory bodies across the globe are crying out for.
For example, the software which would be pre- programmed into each drone would automatically prevent them entering restricted airspace (e.g. airports), going above certain heights (120m) and beyond certain distances (500m) from the operator, alongside a whole raft of other programmable functions which would help alleviate many of the immediate concerns of regulatory bodies. As such, this type of business has the potential to position Ireland as a global hub for the regulation of this technology. Whilst many see design and manufacturing as the key to the success of the industry, the collation and organization of data, and the regulation of this rapidly expanding industry will be essential to its success.
Like many countries, the problem is finding a balance between regulating the use of consumer drones entering the marketplace to ensure public safety and also encouraging growth in what is quickly becoming a multi-billion euro sector with huge potential for the Irish market.
For example, a recent study carried out by Eurocontrol and EuroCAE on behalf of the Director General for Enterprise within the EU Commission, has predicted that by 2017 some 70,000 jobs will be sustained by the RPAS industry with an annual turnover of some €14 billion. Whilst the US slowly comes to grips with implementing policy; the aviation industry here is well placed to attract RPAS manufacturers into Ireland at this early stage and this will result in long term benefits for the Irish economy.
However, the IAA must first grapple with the issue of the number of drones within its own airspace, flown by an increasing number of drone enthusiasts who are often either unaware of the rules and regulations of RPAS or simply choose to ignore them. The IAA states that “any person who wishes to operate a RPAS for commercial purposes must obtain a permission to fly and an aerial work permit from the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA), before commencing operations in Irish airspace.”
Although it is relatively easy to purchase a cheap consumer drone, a video filmed from a drone uploaded to social media such as Facebook or YouTube can be considered commercial gain. Most consumer drones fall under the 20kg class where guidelines (full list available on the IAA website) state that the aircraft must not be operated beyond line of sight/500m or above 120m and that the aircraft shall not operate in congested areas (towns/villages etc.) or within controlled airspace without the consent of the IAA and without third party public liability insurance.
It is the therefore the aim of the UAAI to promote the safe and successful integration of unmanned aircraft into Irish airspace helping to establish the technology within Ireland. The organisation is dedicated to promoting RPAS with emphasis on safety, data standards & applications but does not plan to operate as a policing body and instead will provide advice and guidance to those wishing to enter the industry at a commercial level.