Drones are becoming an ever more popular mode for remote controlled aviation.
Despite the rise in consumer use of drones, and the persevering interests of numerous retailers, no one seems any the wiser over how they are to be regulated and introduced into an already packed airspace.
What’s the current situation?
The UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), lay claim to the present set of rules that anyone flying a personal drone must abide by. Structured points such as not flying above 400 feet (122 metres), and keeping any camera-harnessing drone at least 50 metres from people, vehicles and buildings, give drone enthusiasts some basic guidelines to follow. Unfortunately, the remaining CAA rulings are somewhat vague.
For example, a part of what the CAA call “The Dronecode” states:
- Use your common sense and fly safely; you could be prosecuted if you don’t.
The alarm bells start ringing when national authorities such as these are using little more than subjectivity to define laws of aviation. When you read on and notice other, still relatively ambiguous, advice such as:
- Drones with cameras also must not be flown over congested areas or large gatherings such as concerts and sports events.
- Always keep your drone away from aircraft, helicopters, airports and airfields.
Then you quickly realise that, perhaps, the relevant authorities have no clearly defined regulations on the subject, and are scratching their heads over how to approach such a multi-faceted issue.
Elsewhere, further stipulations are in place regarding permissions when using a drone. If you plan to make some money whilst flying you’re drones about, then you need permission from CAA. Similarly, you’ll need a CAA thumbs up if you’re flying close to busy areas, or near people or buildings you have no control over. You even need to consider weight. If the drone is over 20kg, then again, you’ll have to get permission from the CAA. Essentially, unless you’re flying it in your back garden for 10 minutes, you’re likely to be on the blower to the CAA.
Even when you’ve taken all this into consideration, you’re still left pondering the data protection laws. Obviously, these only apply to drones with cameras, and again, terms such as “use your common sense” are applied when filming other people’s property.
The New Proposals
It’s these final points that might be most relevant when we extend the thought of drones out to wider commercial use. Sure, we don’t want a liberty-reducing set of regulations that ruin all the fun for Joe Drone-Flyer and his mates, who just wants to blast his favourite toy around the park. But given that huge deliverers such as Amazon, Alibaba and DLP have all experimented in drone delivery, some of the issues above have greater relevance commerically.
Regardless, this hasn’t stopped Amazon, the most vocal in their intentions for drone delivery, calling for a change in aviation laws to accommodate drones. They propose that airspace from 200 to 400 feet in the air (61 to 122 metres) be held exclusively for commercial drone use, i.e. for delivery of parcels to awaiting customers, which would be controlled via an automated computer system. In addition, space under 200 feet would be used by local drone traffic, such as those who currently abide by the CAA’s stipulations.
Problems aren’t going away
Amazon have stated how important it is clearly define regulations for drone delivery, thus enabling them to operate without endangering any larger aircraft flying up ahead. A couple of instances of this have occurred recently, further elevating the need to instigate some proper regulations. Back in December, a commercial flight coming to land at Heathrow came within 80 feet of colliding with an unidentified drone flying over 700 feet off the ground. The plane, which could carry up to 180 people, was given an “A” incident rating (meaning “serious risk of collision”). Similar reports have emerged recently from Warsaw, where a drone passed 100 metres from a Lufthansa flight as it prepared to land 108 people in the Polish capital.
Serious consequences could emerge from great hunks of metal finding their way into a plane’s engine, and examples such as these should be a warning to authorities as they ponder the best move forward.
Safety concerns are not the only jibe either. As mentioned above, privacy is a sizeable barrier in the way of drone use both commercially and privately, and it came to a head in the US recently when a man shot down a drone flying around his neighbourhood. William Meredith of Kentucky took the drone out as the flew over his property, citing concerns over the privacy of his daughters. Meredith, who said “I felt that I was well within my rights as an American citizen to defend my property” was subsequently arrested and charged with first degree criminal mischief and first degree wanton endangerment.
Despite this incident occurring during the use of a private drone, it equally poses problems for commercial use. It’s likely that delivery services such as Amazon will strap various cameras to their drones. As they bustle around busy cities and neighbourhoods, what happens to the data collected on various people who stray in front of the camera? If the drone accidentally lands in the wrong house, is it your right to shoot it (or lob a brick at it) and bring it down as it trespasses on your property?
A series of dilemmas still haunt the possible roll out of drone delivery services. But with their private use increasing , and pressure growing for some degree of commerical use, those dilemmas are elevating all the time.
What do you make of the issues surrounding drone use? Can users be trusted with our privacy, and does it pose serious safety concerns for people on the ground and in the air? How might we overcome these issues? Let us know in the comments below.