By Noel BakerSenior Reporter and Social Affairs Correspondent
The Irish Aviation Authority has said it has been informally approached about drone-testing, which could open up the way for the future use of commercial drone delivery operations.
Prior to Christmas the IAA rolled out the world’s first online drone registration module with the IAA ASSET System, in support of the authority’s new drone regulations.
That requires the mandatory registration of all drones weighing 1kg or more with the IAA, and came into force on December 21.
The IAA said it had received a “small number” of reports relating to minor airspace infringements involving drones although, unlike in other countries where near misses with aircraft have been documented, nothing of that magnitude has happened here.
A spokesman for the IAA said: “To date, drone activity has not posed a significant hazard to civil aviation safety in Ireland. The new legislation is intended to ensure that the highest levels of safety are maintained in light of this growing area of aviation.”
There had been speculation about tests on the geo-fencing of drone flight paths for possible future commercial deliveries by companies such as Amazon Air.
Alan Singleton, the chairman of the Irish Air Traffic Controllers Association, said there had been indications testing could take place early in 2016, which could open the way for the courier-style drone service to begin operating here.
But, in a statement, an IAA spokesman said: “Although the IAA has been informally approached, no formal application has been made to the IAA to set up a drone test area in any part of Ireland. If an application is made to the IAA, it will be assessed by the IAA on its merits.”
There was no indication as to who had made the informal approach.
A geo-fence is a virtual barrier, allowing certain areas or features to be tagged and inputted so that any drone will take routes to avoid them. Airports are one obvious feature that must be avoided by drones, particularly larger commercial versions.
Mr Singleton, who is on Ireland’s Air Traffic Controller National Executive Committee, said while there were issues regarding the use of drones — not least safety in terms of a possible crash, and also privacy — there had been no incidents involving any interaction with aircraft or airports of which he was aware.
Irish Air Traffic Controllers Association general secretary Helen Sheridan said, to her knowledge, there had only been one incident involving an airport involving a drone, and that turned out to be a false alarm.
She said commercial operators have acted responsibly and give notification of any journeys.
“The problems are the people who are hobbyists,” she said. “They go out and go off with this expensive toy.”
One retail giant looking at the use of drones is Amazon, which is currently developing its Amazon Prime Air service, which would allow packages to be delivered to customers in as little as 30 minutes using drones and regional depots.
According to Amazon: “Putting Prime Air into service will take some time, but we will deploy when we have the regulatory support needed to realise our vision.”
The IAA said: “While provision for the designation of airspace for drone activity is contained within legislation, no applications have been made to date for commercial delivery testing.”
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