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.

Philip Banks-Welsh drone lawyer

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:

  • construction
  • energy – inspect utility infrastructure/oilrigs
  • logistics
  • land surveys
  • remote crop spraying data on plant health
  • emergency services.

Drone Protection

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.


We understand the challenges the TMT sector faces

 

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RWK bullet point Brexit

The UK’s exit from the EU is likely to cause significant issues for those operating in the technology, media and telecoms space. Have you considered:

  • employment advice e.g. in relation to immigration and new contracts
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  • future proofing your contracts against a hard Brexit.

RWK bullet point GDPR

The data that businesses hold on their staff, clients and other stakeholders will be subject to greater scrutiny and must be protected. Some businesses are built on the buying and selling of personal data. Have you thought about:

  • interpretation and implementation of the regulation
  • full data audit may be required
  • dealing with freedom of information requests
  • supplier agreements will need to be checked and updated
  • customer data collection terms and conditions e.g. for loyalty cards
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RWK bullet point Plugging the labour gap

It’s increasingly costly to recruit and retain staff in a competitive market, including the war for talent driven by a limited supply of qualified professionals against a backdrop of continuous inward investment. Have you thought about:

  • employment advice – particularly in relation to IP
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RWK bullet point Safeguarding IP

With AI on the horizon, new laws emerging, and the rising number and complexity of disputes over technology, businesses are having to be extra vigilant about the way they protect their innovations. Have you considered:

  • branding and trademarks
  • licensing
  • disruptive technologies
  • intellectual property
  • technology and IT licensing
  • media and entertainment rights and ownership
  • reputation and goodwill
  • data as an asset – use and privacy issues.

Contact us and speak to our technology lawyers to find out how we could help you with your drone enquiry.

The Royds Withy King Technology & Media team helped me to negotiate a complex compromise agreement with a large multinational. They devised a strategic approach which not only resulted in a successful trade mark registration to protect our existing products but also a plan that included future expansion. They always had there eye on the bigger picture.
Roger Biles, Co-founder & Managing Director, ARCO England Limited (www.truegrace.com)

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