Weston Airport near Lucan was the scene for the Unmanned Aircraft Association’s inaugural open day as Ireland aims to steal a lead in one of the fastest-growing areas of technology and industry: drones.

It is estimated that there are 4,000 drones already 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.

The sector is growing at a significant rate, with international attention focusing on Ireland as a present and future leader in the commercial drone industry.

The Unmanned Aircraft Association of Ireland (UAAI) has been formed to help put a shape on the astronomical growth of drone flying in Ireland and act as an intermediary between hobbyists and licensed pilots.

“The UAAI aims to promote the safe and successful integration of unmanned aircraft into Irish airspace,” explained Captain Julie Garland, chairperson of the UAAI.

At the event, entrepreneurs mingled with hobbyists and licensed pilots as well as members of the Defence Forces, An Garda Siochana, industry and the public.

Many of drones on display had industrial purposes, such as the ability to fly parts and medical supplies to oil wells out at sea, while others were octocopters carrying full SLR cameras for shooting film.

While enthusiasts get to live out their fantasies of flying, the reality is airspace needs to be properly managed as there have already been incidents in the US where drones have flown over the White House, over airports and, in some cases, impeded safety and rescue efforts. The other aspect is privacy and people who fear the invasive nature of drones flying over their property.

“Our organisation is dedicated to promoting Remotely-Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) with emphasis on safety, training and regulation,” Garland said.

Words by John Kennedy