Drones: the legal position of users

In the past couple of years, the flying and operating of drones has become increasingly more popular.

If you see a drone flying over your property or land, you may have concerns in respect of your privacy, and whether it could cause damage to your property.

A drone is an unmanned aircraft or remotely piloted aircraft.

The Small Unmanned Aircraft (Drones) and Rockets Order, 2015 (SI 563 of 2015), regulates the use of drones in Ireland.

There are also aeronautical notices that apply to the use of drones only.

Under the 2015 Order, all drones weighing over 1kg are to be registered with the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA).

Drones below 1kg can be flown without a permit, provided they remain no more than 15 metres above ground level, and no more than 300 metres from the operator.

Drones can be registered by visiting the IAA’s www.iaa.ie/drones website page.

In the registration process, it is required that the drone is registered via the IAA’s online terrain mapping system known as ASSET.

Any owners under the age of 16 need to be registered by a parent or legal guardian.

There are a number of limitations for the operation of drones under the 2015 Order which include never operating a drone under the following circumstances:

  • If it will be a hazard to another aircraft in flight.
  • Over an assembly of people (12 persons or more).
  • Farther than 300m from the person operating the drone.
  • Within 30m of any person, vessel or structure not under the control of the person operating the drone.
  • Closer than 5km from an aerodrome.
  • In a negligent or reckless manner so as to endanger life or property of others.
  • Over 400ft (120m) above ground level.
  • Over urban areas.
  • In civil or military controlled airspace.
  • In restricted areas (for example, military installations, prisons, etc).
  • Unless the person operating the drone has permission from the landowner for take-off and landing.

If a person wishes to fly your drone outside the limits prescribed in the regulations, they must apply for a Specific Operating Permission (SOP) from the IAA, following training with one of the IAA Registered Training Facilities.

In order to get a Specific Operating Permission, a person must first attend a drone safety training course and produce an operations manual that is acceptable to the IAA.

In order to operate under Specific Operating Permission, a Pilot Competency Certificate is required.

The IAA state that it is the responsibility of the person operating a drone to assess the area in which they intend to fly. The IAA’s Asset tool can be used to establish the location of licensed aerodromes within Ireland and it is essential for the person who will operate the drone to visually inspect the area in which they intend to operate for aircraft activity.

Another factor to consider when operating a drone is privacy law. The General Data Protection Regulation (“GDPR”) which came into effect on May 25, 2018, has an impact on the data captured by drones.

The Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) previously issued guidance on the use of drones in order to comply with the GDPR.

The guidance provides steps to ensure that drone users comply with the GDPR.

The drone user should ensure they have the consent of the individuals whose personal data they will capture, and that they only record the personal data required to achieve the purposes intended and for which consent has been obtained.

It is important too that the user has mechanisms or software in place to ensure that unintended capture of personal data is removed before further processing occurs.

In respect of commercial operators, the DPC advises that a written Drone Usage Policy should be in place.

If you have concerns that your legal rights have been breached due to the use of a drone, it is advisable you consult the Irish Aviation Authority, The Data Protection Commissioner or a Solicitor.

Karen Walsh, from a farming background, is a solicitor practicing in Walsh & Partners, Solicitors, 17, South Mall, Cork (021-4270200), and author of ‘Farming and the Law’. Walsh & Partners also specialises in personal injury claims, conveyancing, probate and family law.

  • Email: info@walshandpartners.ie
  • Web: www.walshandpartners.ie
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