Ireland prosecutes, convicts its first rule-breaking drone pilot

pilot drone prosecuted

When it comes to aerial safety rules, Irish aviation authorities don’t kid around. Just ask the man who became the first pilot successfully prosecuted in the country for breaking regulations by flying his drone above a crowd.

The Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) won the case last week as it prosecuted the pilot witnessed hovering his drone over a large protest rally. The infraction occurred in May last year outside the Israeli Embassy in Dublin, where some of the several thousand demonstrators who’d joined marches denouncing what they called violent repression of Palestinians had gathered.

Police monitoring the assembly caught sight of the UAV over-flying the crowd quickly located the operator, confiscated the vehicle, and notified the IAA.

Though the defendant is described as an experienced freelance filmmaker who’d been capturing video of the march, he hadn’t done the work to learn safety regulations necessary for obtaining certification. Aware there are doubtless a lot more unregistered people similarly flying consumer drones without training spread across the county, the IAA decided to make an example of the offending operator, who they prosecuted and saw convicted by a judge last week. 

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The defendant – who admitted his error and said he hadn’t appreciated the potential danger to people in the crowd below in event of drone malfunction or failure – was put on probation and ordered to make donations to the IAA’s legal costs as well as to charity.

Both national and European Union regulations applicable in Ireland forbid pilots from flying drones above people without obtaining waivers from authorities. Comments made by IAA official Diarmuid Ó Conghaile following the verdict suggested further message-sending legal action may well await both licensed and uncertified UAV operators breaking rules. 

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“The onus is on those who operate drones to do so safely and within the scope of the law, which in this case is EU-wide and in force since the beginning of last year,” he said. “Luckily no one was injured in this instance and the operator has admitted he was at fault. The use of drones is growing all the time, and whilst we can educate people on the safety aspects of their use, drone pilots must understand that these operations come with risks. Had this pilot undertaken the necessary training, this incident is unlikely to have taken place.”

Photo: David Knox/Unsplash

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