Ask Adrian: Our tech editor tackles your trickiest technology problems
Q My son says he wants to buy a drone with his Confirmation money. I'd like to let him but does he need some sort of licence or have to be a certain age? Also, what's the best one to get?
A He doesn't need a licence or to be over a certain age to fly a drone, but he needs to register the drone with the Irish Aviation Authority (at www.iaa.ie). Given that you say he's of Confirmation age, you'll need to register it for him (as is the case with anyone under 16).
When you say 'drone', I'm assuming you mean one of the bigger ones that have cameras on them and cost over €500, such as the DJI Phantom series. Smaller toy drones that can only fly a few dozen metres away from you don't need to be registered.
The laws governing drones in Ireland are still not completely clear, but there are a few basic rules. In general, you can't fly drones in built-up areas like residential estates. The law defaults towards safety, and drones over houses are still considered to be too risky. It's a similar general rule for flying over crowds.
(You can fly in built-up areas or over crowds if you apply for a special licence, but this is aimed at professional users and requires completion of an officially recognised training course.)
Similarly, you can't fly drones in obviously sensitive areas, such as anywhere near an airport. And the IAA has a rule that you can't fly them over 120m (roughly 390 feet) in altitude.
There is still some ambiguity over whether you can fly drones at a beach or a rural location with no-one else around. Some insist that a landowner's permission is required to fly over fields or, in the case of public property, the say-so of the local council. Others say that this isn't strictly necessary and point to the fact that no-one appears to have been cautioned by authorities for doing so. Unfortunately, the IAA doesn't have any real clarity on issues like this.
In my own case, I choose not to fly drones around Dublin at all, but do so in very rural areas such as coastal northwest Mayo and the tip of Cork's Beara Peninsula. I have publicly posted videos from the drones in these locations and have never had any regulatory feedback.
As for choosing the best drone, there is not a huge amount of choice. DJI is the company that dominates the market. The two most appropriate models for a 12-year-old with Confirmation money are its Phantom 3 Standard drone and its brand new Spark drone. Both cost €599. The Phantom 3 is about two years old but still flies beautifully and produces excellent videos from its 12-megapixel HD camera. It's about the size and weight of a regular laptop (although obviously taller and thicker).
The latest Spark model is less than half the size and weight of the Phantom 3. It's designed more as a portable drone to bring around with you. It has some advanced tricks like being able to launch from your hand.
Both of these drones have good cameras attached that produce high-definition footage. The larger model flies for longer (25 minutes) on a single charge than the smaller one (16 minutes). Neither can be flown in strong wind or rain. The Phantom 3 comes with a remote controller, but you have to pay extra for it with the Spark, which is designed more to work from your phone.
The bottom line is that if it's for messing around and having fun, I'd get the Spark. If he wants something a bit sturdier for video projects or weekend flights, I'd get the Phantom 3. I can attest that both are great machines - I own the Spark, as well as the big brother of the Phantom 3, the Phantom 4.
RECOMMENDATION: DJI Phantom Spark, €599 from Camera Centre (Camera.ie)
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