Legal advice for the commercial use of drones
New drone legislation is set to be introduced in the UK over the coming months with a view to increasing the safety of drone use. The Drone (Regulation) Bill 2017-19. This Bill is expected to have its second reading debate on Friday 15 February 2019.
This is in response to increased concerns over safety risks posed by drones being flown too close to controlled airspace.
Phil Banks-Welsh is a TMT Drone Sector Partner at Royds Withy King and is an ex-RAF fighter controller.
Drones and the British economy
According to PWC using drones to transform working practices could boost Britain’s economy by £42bn by 2030 and employ 628,000 people working in the drone economy, potentially in highly skilled jobs including building and programming the devices.
New regulations seek to impose lateral and vertical limits on the use of drones near to airports and above 400 feet which would impact on light aircraft use.
Whilst such restrictions are undoubtedly necessary they are reactive and it is considered that there will need to be regulation to deal more proactively with drone use, particularly as commercial drone use increases.
All the indications are that we are on the verge of a major increase in commercial drone usage, with increasing numbers of drone applications. There is a growing need for the introduction of sophisticated electronic controls, including geo-fencing and electronic identification of drones, to regulate and control drone use.
The expansion of drone applications is hugely exciting but also presents significant challenges to the established use of airspace in the UK. This is going to need a complete overhaul of drone legislation if we are going to avoid more instances of ‘near-misses’ with commercial flights and if we are to create a sustainable basis on which airspace can be properly segregated for use by both unmanned aircraft and manned aircraft.
Balancing commercial interests with security
A further issue is the need to understand ICO regulation to the use of drones at a very basic level to protect us from those who were intent on abusing privacy. The balance between greater commercial freedom and security issues needs to be properly addressed and the reality is that regulation is lagging far behind technological advancements. The functionality of many drones which are available on the high street means that they are capable of being flown into controlled airspace and the risks which come from this are significant.
Ocuair is a leading commercial drone operator and a Royds Withy King client
Steve Carrington from Ocuair, one of the UK’s most experienced commercial drone operators, said: “Our business is not just about flying drones safely, but the collecting and modelling of valuable data and increasing the value from the data they collect. Drones are able to quickly map, inspect or transport in places that are difficult for people to reach and to give more data than is visible to the human eye. There is a huge opportunity for drone technology to benefit society and improve people’s lives.”
Increased use of drones in sectors from:
- energy – inspect utility infrastructure/oilrigs
- land surveys
- remote crop spraying data on plant health
- emergency services.
This is where geo-fencing and the use of electronic identification (IFF) comes in. The regulatory world is starting to come to terms with the concept that electronic regulation will be far more effective than a system which seeks to address unlawful behaviour after the event.
Geo-fencing and electronic identification will be embedded into the software of drones at the manufacturing stage. This will create not only a geographical barrier but also a means of identifying “genuine” aircraft, in the way that other, more traditional, forms of air traffic are identified within the air traffic control environment. It is already being used by some drone manufacturers and is the way forward in helping to control the use of drones. This will underpin the way in which drones will be controlled all around us.
We already have a well-established methodology for controlling manned aircraft in the UK as well as around the world. As our skies get more crowded we will no longer be able to rely on adherence to regulations, even where these impose criminal sanctions, without some form of technological control. That technological control must come soon if we are to avoid even greater problems in the future.
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