The continuing rise of drones – the Lords have their say

Nicholas Cullen

European regulators need to get a tighter grip on civilian drone use, which may include requiring hobbyists to register their equipment, a House of Lords committee has said.

Drones, or small unmanned aircraft, are becoming an increasingly common sight in our skies (click here to read our previous post) and calls are growing for extra rules to govern their use.

Yesterday (Thursday 5 March) the House of Lords’ European Union Committee issued a paper titled Civilian Use of Drones in the EU, which contained a series of recommendations for regulators.

Data recommendations

Key recommendations from a data viewpoint include:

  • Creating an online database through which commercial pilots can provide details of their flights to inform other airspace users. Operators could use the database to inform the public of their data protection policies.
  •  In the long term, requiring all drone use, including leisure use, to be registered on a central database to help manage the expected increase in traffic and to improve traceability of operators to facilitate enforcement of drone laws. 
  • Using the proposed EU General Data Protection Regulation as “the appropriate vehicle to meet the challenges of increased commercial use of [drones]”. The Lords concluded that there was no need for drone-specific data protection legislation. Pilots should be made aware of their obligations under existing data protection legislation as well as the draft Regulation, and the Commission, through Member States’ data protection agencies, should create and share specific data protection guidance for commercial drone pilots. 
  • Encouraging drone pilots to carry out privacy impact assessments.
  •  Calling for an urgent public debate on the state’s use of drones for surveillance. 
  • Encouraging UK media regulators to initiate a public consultation on the appropriate use of drones by the media, with a view to providing clear guidance.

Other areas of interest

The report drew a distinction between civilian commercial and leisure use of drones, and warned that misuse by hobbyists “could undermine public acceptance of this technology, potentially jeopardising the development of a commercial RPAS market.” The Committee recommended public consultation and increased police involvement to counter this risk.

Police involvement in enforcing existing laws on drone use was desirable because of “the increasing scope for RPAS-related offences and the limited resources of the UK Civil Aviation Authority”. The report welcomed plans to produce guidance for UK police forces on how to enforce drone rules and encourages other EU Member States to consider a similar approach.

In the future “geo-fencing” technology could be used to prevent drones being piloted in sensitive areas, the report added.

The Committee also discussed whether the traditional approach towards regulating manned aircraft, assessing airworthiness and operator competence, should also apply to drones, and concluded that authorities should adopt a more flexible “risk-based approach”, under which more stringent requirements apply to larger or more dangerous aircraft than to lighter, lower-risk models.

No mandatory insurance for hobbyists

The Lords considered but ultimately rejected a submission that all drone users, including leisure users, should be required to obtain third party liability insurance.

The report states: “while similar equipment may be used by both leisure and commercial… pilots, introducing mandatory third party liability insurance for the leisure use of [drones] would be disproportionate to the hazard posed by such users.”

Also from an insurance perspective, the Committee recommended that the Commission should increase the minimum amount of public liability cover required by commercial operators from the current figure of €660,000 for all unmanned aircraft weighing up to 500kg.

Conclusions: the shape of things to come

This is still a fledgling industry, and there are likely to be many more reports and white papers to come from a variety of government and other interested parties. However, this paper is an interesting indication of current official thinking about where regulation of drones is heading.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *