Our Guide To Drone Safety and Legislation
How do I safely operate a Drone / Get Someone Else To Do So For Me?
There’s no doubt about it, drones have become more and more ubiquitous. They’re everywhere, getting cheaper, and affording us all new ways to look at the world around us. They raise questions about safety and privacy, they’re a lot of fun. Like anything new in the world of tech, there are a lot of pitfalls, and a lot of advantages.
Professional bodies have sprung up all over the world to try and nail down what is and isn’t acceptable with drones, with varying degrees of success, but one thing they all have in common is they reinforce the need to fly these wonderful machines safely.
Ireland is no exception, and legislation is beginning to catch up with the amount of drones that are currently out there, both in commercial and hobby use. The single most important piece of legislation in that regard is S.I. 563 2015 – The Irish Aviation Authority Small Unmanned Aircraft (Drones) and Rockets Order, 2015, which came into effect on the 21st December 2015.
So what is it?
S.I. 563 is a set of rules regarding what is and isn’t allowed when flying drones in Irish Airspace. Simple.
What does it say?
There are several provisions of the statutory instrument, but some of the most important are as follows:
- The Instrument applies to any unmanned aerial vehicle weighing 1kg or more, and says that all such vehicles must be registered with the Irish Aviation Authority.
- It sets out the rules for using such machines in prohibited / restricted / class C airspace, for example within 5km of any airfield.
- It prohibits their use within 30m of anyone / thing not under the direct control of the pilot.
- If there are groups of 12 or more people not under your direct control, you’re not allowed to operate the drone within 120m of them.
- You must have Direct Line of Sight of the drone, and you’re not allowed to send it more than 300m from your position.
- You’re not allowed higher than 120m (400ft) above ground / water – This makes sense as the floor for a manned aircraft is 500ft, so there’s a buffer between their floor and your ceiling.
- You’re not allowed to drop anything by parachute or otherwise from an SUAV (small unmanned aerial vehicle).
- If your drone weighs more than 4kg, you must have specific training and a licence for machines of that size.
This seems like quite a lot of rules, but they make sense. They’re all there to ensure safe and responsible enjoyment of the technology for all. The penalties for going around these rules are fairly severe, and likely to tighten up further in coming years. Right now, anyone caught operating an unregistered drone subject to the Instrument, could have their equipment seized on the spot by any member of An Garda Síochána / agent of the IAA, and the general thinking, according to the Law Society Gazette, is that people are being encouraged to think of drones as any other vehicle, like your car, and think of the consequences of their actions the same way.
But what if you are a commercial operator / client, and you need to fly outside of these restrictions for a specific job?
Section 9 makes provision for certain licenced operators to apply for a specific operators’ permission. This means, within reason, that they can apply to circumvent certain of these provisions at a specific time and date, and furnish the IAA with a risk assessment to show how they intend to take the extra risk factor out of the equation. It’s not guaranteed, and every job is judged on its merit, but there are certainly other countries out there that won’t even countenance such a slacking of the rules. This alone is to be welcomed.
What does it all mean if I’m a client, and I want to hire a pilot to capture some drone footage for a commercial reason? How do I make my own life easier?
There are a couple of things that you can do to make life easier, safer, and cheaper, when considering hiring a licenced drone operator (like Acmhainní Teoranta) for your next commercial shoot.
- Find an approved, licenced and insured operator – there’s a list on the IAA website, but in order to save time, yes, Acmhainní Teoranta is on that list.
- Give them at the very least 1 week’s notice before the intended flight. This will allow them time to correctly prepare and get the necessary paperwork in order.
- Be prepared for site visits etc. Think of the operator like a builder / utility company. Before they undertake significant works, they might have to visit the site, conduct a recce, apply for permissions for road closures etc. This all helps to alleviate the risks involved in putting an upside-down lawn mower up into the sky.
- Expect to pay for their expertise, even in this evaluative stage. Sometimes it’s just not possible to safely conduct a flight, and the operator will ultimately make that call. Nobody else. At Acmhainní, we will always try to make that call as early as possible to avoid further unnecessary expense.
- Stay out of the way. Believe it or not, client presence is evaluated as a further risk factor when deciding how safe a job is. You’re probably not a fan of your boss standing looking over your shoulder while you work, so if the pilot needs a bit of space, give it to him / her. The computer at your desk is unlikely to crash into someone / something due to a fairly minor user error because the pressure was ramped up.
- Absolutely enjoy the experience, but budget for it carefully. It’s not a small undertaking, and there are no guarantees the necessary footage can be captured on the day, so return visits could be a possibility. But remember this: drones are fun to fly, and people are generally interested in watching operators at their work. Have fun with it, but always listen to an operator / spotter if they tell you to get back from an area etc. They will know that your safety, as well as everyone else’s is paramount, and how to ensure it.