In April this year, a man was arrested when his UAV crashed into the 40th floor of the Empire State Building. When he asked for it back, he was refused and the police were called. If you had witnessed this event, you’d have been forgiven for assuming something disastrous was about to happen. New Yorker's in particular must be on high alert when it comes to moments like this, and who can blame them?
As their popularity escalates, so do their potential uses, both good and bad, for what we now commonly refer to as Drones. Also known as ‘remotely piloted aircraft systems’ (RPAS) or ‘unmanned aerial vehicles’ (UAV), they literally come in all shapes and sizes; ranging from the small handheld types, all the way up to models the size of airliners. Last Christmas saw a huge spike in sales as the retail prices drop - it is now possible to become airborne for less than £100.
When you fly a drone in the UK, it is your responsibility to be aware of the rules that are in place to make sure you are flying safely and legally. As long as your drone weighs less than 20kg and you are not using it commercially, there is nothing to stop you going out right now and joining the ranks of drone ownership. The current rules state you should always be able to see your drone and must not fly higher than 400 feet, however, it is an offence to fly your drone near aircraft, helicopters, airports and airfields at any time. And if the drone is armed with a camera, you are not allowed within 50 metres of people, vehicles, buildings or structures. Furthermore, you can’t fly near any congested areas, or large gatherings such as concerts and sports events, but even the Civil Aviation Authority admit that these rules are ‘evolving’. They can and have occasionally used their powers to impose more wide reaching restrictions. During the Obama visit to the UK earlier this year, and the recent Queen’s birthday celebrations, there was a blanket ban from flying anywhere over London.
Although the rules are somewhat loose, there have been several prosecutions. A Nottingham man was charged after he went on a 3 month filming spree, which included sites such as Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament and several premier football stadiums. He was charged with 17 breaches of the Air Navigation Order and was fined £1,800 at Westminster Magistrates Court. Obviously mindful of the far reaching possibilities of this technical phenomenon, The Queen’s speech recently unveiled legislation that will “put the UK at the forefront of safe technology in the autonomous vehicles industry, such as drones and spaceplanes.”
It has been widely reported that companies such as Google and Amazon continue to explore the commercial benefits of drones. The US recently approved 2 models for commercial use, and the UK will no doubt follow suit. Paving the way for this, the Queen’s speech also included the announcement of the Modern Transport Bill, which will set the framework for the UK’s first real spaceport.
But what about issues a little closer to home? Owners are currently not compelled, but are advised to take out insurance; not only to protect the device from loss or damage, but also to protect themselves in the event of personal injury, or even a lawsuit in the event of a perceived infringement of someone’s personal privacy. These devices in the hands of the unscrupulous paparazzi are enough to give even a Z lister sleepless nights, following several incidents of them appearing as uninvited guests at various celeb events, including Tina Turner’s 'private' wedding ceremony some time ago.
On a more serious note; in line with the escalation of units sold, there has also been an increase in reported accidents. Earlier this year, a 2 year old lost his eye when a neighbour’s drone bounced off a tree and, with unprotected blades, actually managed to slice the boy’s eyeball in half!
The following is a compilation of drone accidents recently posted on to Facebook. It makes for some uncomfortable viewing at various times, but is surely a compelling argument for stricter guidelines and the introduction of training for consumers:
Drone use produces 3 potential areas for claims and liability:
In light of this, insurers have been compelled to exclude cover from home insurance policies in favour of ones that are drone specific.
But this hasn’t stopped them embracing the technology to improve the claims process. Quick to see the advantages, specifically in the field of disaster, fires or even missing aircraft, drones have already proved themselves to be an invaluable asset in the assessment of risk to the victims and their potential rescuers, in a way that would have proved too dangerous to any human investigators. And when the dust has settled, surveys and assessments are also quicker in response and execution, thereby making the process far cheaper and more effective.
As the drones gradually permeate their way into our everyday lives, should we stop and take the time to ask ourselves if the benefits still outweigh the risks, given their potential ability to be used lethally in the hands of the wrong kind of person, group or even a nation?
Meanwhile, we should expect to see more frequent reports of daily use in the news, such as the French police using a number of drones to increase security at England’s training camp during the Euros recently, not that they should have bothered – nothing to see there!
I asked around the office and no one at Aston Charles seemed intent on dronership any time soon - a couple of people said they’d quite like one, but had no real plans. So, is it too soon to panic, or just the right time to tighten the restrictions before the numbers become unmanageable? Perhaps the introduction of compulsory insurance and training will clip the wings of the fly by nights? Maybe a budding entrepreneur should build ‘drone zones’, so users can participate in challengers akin to those experienced on a games console? Something similar to this may already exist, but if children can be blinded by these things, then massive claims are out there. Who will make the next move?