Drones, or more properly referred to as “unmanned aerial vehicles” (“UAV”) or “unmanned aerial systems (“UAS”), are increasingly making headlines – both in the antics of casual users (who are wont to fly them over commercial airports and the villas of holidaying celebrities),  and for the more serious potential commercial benefits.

The Department for Transport ran a public consultation between December 2016 and March 2017 on the government’s proposals to develop the UK’s policy and regulatory framework for drones, and it’s expected that new drone regulations will soon follow. What’s notable about the consultatiuon is that it expressly states the government’s intention not to raise barriers to the sector’s success.

There are indeed numerous benefits of using drones in collating digital data: they can be deployed quickly and cost effectively; and can have significant health and safety benefits, inspecting hard to reach structures or dangerous areas.  Drones have been used to record or monitor work progress; provide real-time aerial surveys; provide 3D modelling or thermal image recordings and for air and ground sampling.  And, with an eye on the future, in late 2017 Dubai was already testing a drone taxi service. All of these can provide significant time and cost savings.

 

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However, as with all new innovations, this comes with potential legal and contractual issues. Here are a few things that need to be considered:

Remember to ensure compliance with the relevant regulations and laws governing drones in the country you are located; the registration requirements and restrictions may differ significantly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.  In the UK, as a starting point, check the Civil Aviation Authority’s (“CAA”) requirements.

As with undertaking any endeavour that gives rise to risk of injury or damage, it may be sensible to ensure you are insured for damage by your drone(s) to persons and property, such as via your professional indemnity and/or public liability insurance.  Your broker will be able to confirm whether drones fall within any exclusions in your existing policy; some professional indemnity policies contain exclusions of cover for “aircrafts” which may include drones.  It may also be sensible to consider obtaining insurance to cover potential data issues, such as loss of data and data breaches.

Finally, one major factor to consider and guard against is to avoid breaching the Data Protection Act and the GDPR.  This includes avoiding recording neighbouring properties, and ensuring steps are taken to obtain any necessary consent or agreement by employees/visitors that they may be recorded (where this is likely/unavoidable).  Where there is a risk that third parties around the site may be recorded, e.g. where the drone is operating from a high vantage point, measures may have to be devised to comply with personal data requirements.

It is vital to ensure parties expectations and understandings are clearly set out in the contract.  This may include risk allocation for drones accidents/issues and data errors, as well as clarity on the scope of drones use.

The risks and issues will become clearer as the technology develops in this complex and rapidly changing area.  In the meantime, it is sensible to mitigate the potential risks through clear contract terms, risk mitigation processes and insurance.

Blog originally posted here – by May Winfield, Senior Solicitor, Carillion (Twitter: @BuildLaw_ArtTea)