Looking at the increase in the number of drone fines charged against illegal behavior by aviation authorities over the world, I see an emerging trend: more and more authorities are starting to prosecute unlawful drone operations.
While this is good news, many in the industry – as well as myself – feel that the authorities have been slow in enforcing. Why is that?
Well, most of the focus of the regulators to date has been on defining the legal framework of this new industry. How can you enforce if you don’t have a clear set of rules in place first?
Drones represent a revolutionary technology which is booming and being adopted across several verticals with new uses discovered almost every day. While the technology is ready and progresses at an amazing pace, regulators are chasing rather than anticipating this changing industry
The problem was (and still is), setting the rules isn’t an easy task.
Even in countries where considerable efforts have been made so far in building a legal framework for safely integrating drones into airspace, regulators had to conciliate two different interests – sometimes conflicting: promoting safety and compliance and supporting the needs of the fast-growing drone industry.
Another factor complicating the regulatory efforts is that increased drone use raises several issues from a legal perspective.
Operating a drone involves different areas of law: privacy law, tort law, insurance law, civil aviation regulations, in particular, safety for people and manned aircraft. On top of that, privacy is a trending topic in the past few months.
The complexity of this task increases in countries where multiple authorities have input and control over some of the legal aspects related to hobbyist and commercial flying.
For example, in the U.S., a confusing crossover of federal, state and local regulations – the so-called patchwork quilt – is negatively impacting the industry’s development and the capacity of the authorities to focus on enforcement, as a recent research by the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College highlights. One of their key insights was that in several cases local drone laws contravene the FAA’s drone rules, resulting in legal conflicts.
Crossing the ocean, while the European Commission has started to draft a blueprint of a legal framework for operating drones, individual EU member states still have the total decision-making power over drone regulations and legal prosecutions. While the Commission has put a lot of effort recently to standardize drone rules, analysts expect areas of conflict between the European framework and the state and local laws to emerge.
Another problem the aviation authorities have been struggling to deal with is the lack of resources specifically dedicated to managing drone registrations, complaints and reports of illegal or reckless operations.
Despite these difficulties, during the last couple of years, several countries managed to put a drone regulatory framework in place, and are switching their attention from setting the rules to enforcing them.
Moreover, drone regulation is not the concern of drone operators only. Their clients are requiring compliance as well to protect their own brands.
Content buyers have begun to understand that drone content must be acquired legally – like any other type of content such as music – if they don’t want to face the risks associated with illegal operations.
In some countries, regulators are enforcing on the buyers’ side too. For example, in the US, if you hire a drone operator who doesn’t hold a Part 107 allowing commercial operations, you could be facing federal charges as well.
If you are curious to read about some of the most significant cases involving prosecution for non-compliance, I compiled a list of 15 interesting drone fines from around the world, showing the increasing prosecution trend.
So whether you’re a drone operator looking to monetize your drone in a compliant way or whether you’re an aerial content buyer looking for legally acquired content, the website, droneregulations.info, provides a straightforward overview of regulation by country. UAV Coach also offers an updated list of drone laws and regulations by country, making it impossible to feign ignorance of the rules.