Wednesday 13 December 2017

Crackdown on drones as privacy fears grow

Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe with Ralph James of the IAA at the launch of new drone regulations. Photo: Maxwells
Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe with Ralph James of the IAA at the launch of new drone regulations. Photo: Maxwells
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

A crackdown on flying drones begins next week, as Irish authorities look to curtail the danger of the popular gadgets crashing into houses, spying on people and causing chaos around Irish airports.

The portable flying machines, which cost from €100 and are set to be a popular Christmas gift this year, will now need to be officially registered with the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) or owners could face fines of up to €27,500.

The move comes as regulators worry about a rise in near-miss incidents at airports involving drones and the possible invasion of privacy they might cause in built-up areas.

"The IAA has received a small number of reports relating to minor airspace infringements," a spokesman told the Irish Independent, declining to specify the incidents involved.

Irish law currently prohibits drones from operating around airports, prisons or "over urban areas" without a special licence from the IAA.

But Irish experts say many complaints relate to privacy.

"In the UK, complaints about drones to police have risen 2,000pc, with lots of those complaints connected to privacy," said John Wright, chairman of the Unmanned Aircraft Association of Ireland.

"We don't have official figures for Ireland, but it's probably similar."

Popular drones such as DJI's Phantom or 3DR's Solo typically come with high-definition camcorders that can take crystal-clear video footage from the skies.

The new IAA registration rules apply to drones that weigh more than 1kg, which covers most machines used by active drone owners in Ireland.

The IAA estimates that there are between 4,000 and 5,000 drones in Ireland, but experts say that this is a conservative figure as it does not take into account sales over the internet, thought to represent a large portion of drone sales.

"At the moment, some of it is guesswork," said Mr Wright. "Part of the purpose of the registration exercise is to gauge how many drones are actually out there."

Giant online retailer Amazon is currently trialling a new delivery service that would see drones deliver small packages to customers' front doors in 30 minutes.

Delivery companies such as DHL are also testing delivery via drones.

The IAA is to charge €5 per person for registering the drones but says it will waive the fee until February.

But enforcement could be in doubt, with An Garda Síochána insisting it is up to the IAA to police the drive.

Irish Independent

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