Drones, Christmas and the question of safety and insurance

If drones were not quite one of last Christmas’s must have presents, this Christmas may well be different if the proliferation of drones available in stores such as Argos is anything to go by.

With the levels of drone related calls being made to UK Police forces rising rapidly, we can anticipate another sharp spike upwards following Christmas, unless of course there is a sudden appreciation by the legion of new drone flyers for the rules under which drones should be flown.

Following the recent BBC Watchdog programme on drones, in which I was interviewed, a young mother contacted the programme about her 18 month old son, Oscar Webb, who had been hit by a drone and had lost an eye.

Besides the general safety issue, the tragedy of young Oscar Webb raises another fundamental matter where drones are being flown by leisure users, and that is it is highly unlikely in most instances they will actually be covered by insurance.

So there is a double risk; firstly, that the uncovered flyer will face the financial consequences of their drone flying, which potentially could be substantial; and secondly, that an innocent victim of a drone related incident could encounter difficulties in seeking financial compensation for what has happened to them. This could be as a result of either the insufficient financial resources of the drone pilot, or because the drone pilot cannot be identified.

These matters again highlight the need to be able to identify who is flying a particular drone, and the question of whether there needs to be compulsory insurance requirements for leisure drone flyers.

In the UK there are already examples outside of the general air navigation order rules, where those in control of property, such as the London Royal Parks, have banned the use of drones on safety grounds. It is all very well banning drones, but can enforcement of such a ban be achieved? This can be highly problematic where those flying drones cannot be identified. We have seen the United States and Ireland propose to go down the registration route, but that of itself does not guarantee identification, and the possibility of identification technology within the drone is a likely requirement for the future.

Another technology, Geo fencing, which aims to prevent aircraft entering specific locations via programming, is another technology that is likely to become mainstream over time. However, other methods of preventing drones from flying in specific locations could be utilised. It would not be a surprise to hear that organisations, such as sports clubs who have large numbers of people in attendance at events, are actually blocking drone control frequencies to prevent drones flying close to an event. This it has to be said is illegal in the UK under the Wireless Telegraphy Act 2006, but those blocking signals would no doubt seek to argue they were doing the blocking on safety grounds.

With the sad and tragic accident that happened to Oscar Webb, the question of safety and the increasing concerns over the illegal flying of drones lead to the conclusion that it has become a matter of urgency that such matters are effectively dealt with.

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