Insurance in the age of drones - The lawyer

No technology develops in a vacuum – and no almost all technology develops faster than the regulations governing it. Nonetheless, US authorities are doing their best to keep up with drones, developing an approach to a fully integrated airspace and the creation of highways in the sky. Drone regulation is being drafted in an environment that remains pro-innovation, going all the way up to the White House.

A significant step forward was made in August 2016 when the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) authorised commercial drones – under 30 kg, flying during daylight at max 100 meters height – without special waivers to existing regulations. Acquiring those waivers previously costed time and money. The next challenges for the industry and for the FAA are to craft legislation for areas, such as night time flying or flying over crowds, which are currently out of scope. The FAA has further issued a registration site for drone owners, which has already attracted a large number of respondents. At the same time, commercial drone service providers need to abide by local state regulations. Twenty states issued drone applicable legislation in 2015, with almost all others considering doing so.

In questionnaires, however, the number one concern voiced by the public about drones does not concern safety but privacy. Drones are popularly perceived as an intrusive eye-in-the-sky, and aggrieved citizens have taken direct action against drones, including shooting one out of the sky. It may be a question of adjustment, but members of the public are much more sensitive at being monitored by drones than by street level cameras, for example traffic monitoring cameras. This is leading to an emerging consensus as to what constitutes and individual's private airspace above their private property. The industry is also doing its best to reassure the public, with a number of drone companies and representative organisations pledging to abide by the privacy guidelines of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

The overall message from the US is that authorities want to work with the entrepreneurs and innovators while ensuring privacy and safety standards are met – a process that could be described as polivation.

Summary of Lisa Ellman's presentation at the Centre's Drone event in October 2016. Ellman is Partner at Hogan Lovells and Chair of the UAS Practice Group. Summary written by Simon Woodward.