Invasion of the Drones!


Love them or loath them drone use has increased significantly in the past few years and their popularity is set to increase given the spectacular aerial photographs they capture and suggestions of drone delivery services.

The law regulating their use is still developing and they are regulated by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) in the UK.

The Air Navigation Order 2009 sets out the basic guidelines for drone operators which must be adhered to at all times. Articles 138, 166 and 167 are relevant to the safe use of drones. In short these Articles outlaw the reckless or negligent endangerment of any person or property caused by flying a drone or dropping items from a drone and provide guidelines in relation to safe distances from people/property/events. A flight may only be carried out if the operator is reasonably satisfied flight can safely be made and if the drone remains in unaided visual contact with the operator at all times. There are additional regulations if the drone is likely to interfere with air space in an aerodrome traffic zone.

In Ireland the Irish Aviation Authority has introduced broadly similar regulations governing the use of drones. See SI 563/2015 Irish Aviation Authority Small Unmanned Aircraft (Drones) and Rockets Order and SI 107/2015 which relates to larger drones. Unfortunately at present there are no penalties for breaching the regulations rendering them somewhat toothless.

Increased drone use has led to rising privacy concerns, beautifully demonstrated by the US father who shot down a drone flying in the vicinity of his sunbathing teenage daughter. It is not recommended to take such direct action against your neighbour’s drone, not least because they could report you for criminal damage or pursue a civil claim against you for the cost of repair or replacement, but what can you do if you feel that your privacy is being invaded?

One option is to report the operator to the police or guards in the event that the operator may be in breach of the law. Alternatively, you may wish to consult your solicitor with a view to pursuing a civil claim against the operator. In theory repeated flights above or near your house or garden may interfere with the reasonable enjoyment of your property and may represent a nuisance or trespass in law which could lead to the Court making an order prohibiting further infringement.

If a drone takes photographs which identify an individual the operator could fall foul of data protection legislation and the Information Commissioner could in theory become involved.

The Irish Guards have expressed an interest in acquiring drones for use in surveillance and in Northern Ireland the PSNI already have a small fleet of drones.

In addition to all of the above, drone operators should consider checking whether or not they are insured in the event that something goes wrong. Accidents can happen and drones can cause significant damage to property and cause very serious personal injuries. Many home insurance policies exclude liability cover resulting from the use of motorised vehicles and aircraft. Drones are frequently marketed as toys or gadgets but arguably they are mechanically propelled aircraft. Check your policy and if in doubt query it with your insurer. For many policyholders at present it may well be open to interpretation and this is not a position you want to be in when facing with a substantial injury or property claim.