Only 80 out of 4,000 drone pilots in Ireland are licensed and if Ireland is going to capture a niche as a leading hub for drone development then safety and privacy rules will need to be established, Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe TD said today (21 August).
Weston Airport in Lucan was the scene for the inaugural ‘Meet the Drones’ open day organised by the newly-established Unmanned Aircraft Association of Ireland (UAAI).
UAAI’s focus is on enabling the safe integration of unmanned aircraft into Irish airspace and the event was attended by members of the Defence Forces and An Garda Siochana, members of industry and hobbyists.
The reality is that drones represent one of the hottest areas of technology today and the current 4,000 drone pilots could multiply as the technology becomes more affordable and available.
‘Privacy is a classic example of where we need to look at the existing laws and what regulations we have in place and test them to see if they can cope with the kind of growth we are expecting to see’
– MINISTER PASCHAL DONOHOE
It is estimated that there are already 4,000 drones in use in Ireland, but just 80 users have secured permission to fly from the Irish Aviation Authority for commercial operations such as aerial photography, site surveying or filming.
However, drones have already been the cause of controversy in Ireland, with criminals using them to drop drugs and mobile phones into Irish prisons.
Elsewhere in the world they have caused alerts by flying over airports and even the White House.
Privacy is another key issue in the US where some members of the public have downed drones using firearms because the drones flew over their property.
Ireland can be a centre of excellence for drone technology
Paschal Donohoe TD, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, said that Ireland has had regulations for drones since 2012 but new laws for privacy and security need to be established.
“This whole area is going to experience gigantic growth and while Ireland is well ahead in terms of what needs to be done to regulate drones, there’s a real need for Ireland and Europe to look at what laws we need in relation to privacy and security and how different drones can be regulated.”
The Minister said that the IAA are looking at what kind of future laws will be necessary for drones: “How do we ensure they are operating in airspace that is clearly defined for their use in society?
“Privacy is a classic example of where we need to look at the existing laws and what regulations we have in place and test them to see if they can cope with the kind of growth we are expecting to see.”
Ireland is positioning itself to be a testbed for companies like Amazon, for example, to look at the use of drones to deliver goods and services.
“I can see a day when many different companies could be looking to use these units to do jobs and provide services that at the moment might appear difficult to do.
“These units could be used to deliver books, medicine and other services and goods on-demand.
“This is a technology that is evolving at a massive pace and I am confident that the rules and regulations are appropriate and working.
“But because of the growth and what’s going to happen there is a real need to look at how rules and regulations will need to change in the years to come,” Minister Donohoe said.
Safety of drones in Irish airspace is a No 1 priority
At the event, the director of Safety Regulation for the Irish Aviation Authority, Ralph James, said that Ireland is already quite advanced in terms of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) legislation for civil use.
He said that safety is the No 1 priority and that Ireland is well placed to exploit commercial developments in the sector.
Captain Julie Garland, chairperson of the UAAI, said that she wants to encourage hobbyists and commercial operators to focus on safety first.
“The UAAI aims to promote the safe and successful integration of unmanned aircraft into Irish airspace,” she said.
“Our organisation is dedicated to promoting RPAS with emphasis on safety, training and regulation.
“We’re also really pleased with the strong interest that Minister Donohoe has shown today as a sign of his support for helping to develop this sector as a worldwide centre of excellence for RPAS technology,” Garland said.