United Kingdom

Flying high – the opportunities and implications of drones

Unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, are rapidly transforming everything from deliveries to surveying. Deborah Ball, Public Sector Practice Leader at Aon, looks at the opportunities, and insurance implications, they present to the public sector.

From assessing flood or fire damage to monitoring crowds and delivering medicines, drones have the potential to transform a huge variety of operations. But, with the use of these unmanned aerial vehicles growing rapidly, public sector organisations must ensure the risks are well managed.

Drones are already being used extensively, including:

  • atmospheric research such as monitoring the weather and pollution levels;
  • accessing dangerous areas, for instance fires, floods, volcanoes and hurricanes;
  • surveying crops to determine whether additional water or fertilisers are required;
  • delivering everything from pizzas to medicines, and potentially even passengers; and
  • entertainment, where they can take aerial shots for TV and film.

Public sector drones

The public sector also stands to benefit from drones. Earlier this year Nesta announced that five city regions – Bradford, London, Preston, Southampton and the West Midlands – would run projects on the use of drones in public services, assessing factors such as the logistics and safety in urban environments, the environmental impact and public attitude.

The potential applications are huge. As well as using them for surveying, with examples including flood relief and fire risk assessments to planning permission applications, drones can also be used to support police work. Examples include crime scene and road searches; monitoring drug raids; crowd control; and searching for missing people.

Drone regulations

Regulations govern how and where drones are used, as well as the insurance requirements. For example, where a drone is used for recreational purposes, its weight determines the regulatory requirements. These are contained within the Air Navigation Order 2016 (ANO) and dictate how, where and the height at which drones can be flown.

The rules are getting tougher too. From the end of November 2019, owners of drones weighing 250g or more must register their details and take an online safety test.

Where it’s used for commercial purposes, the UK Civil Aviation Authority requires the user to hold a Permission for Aerial Work. This requires them to demonstrate appropriate risk management measures are in place to protect people, property and aircraft and to have adequate insurance in place.

Drone policy

As their usage grows, both for commercial but also recreational purposes, local authorities must ensure they have the necessary policies in place to manage any risk they pose. This should cover the management of both its own drones but also those used in the borough by commercial operators and members of the public.

Where they can be flown is of particular importance to local authorities. As well as restrictions around flying in airspace or above 400ft, robust protections need to be in place to prevent people flying drones near schools or where they might breach someone’s privacy.

Similarly, in more rural areas, there can be issues around flying drones near livestock with examples of cattle being spooked and horses bolting or throwing their riders.

As there’s a blurred line between criminal and civil law in these areas, it’s prudent to work closely with local police to ensure these policies are fit for purpose.

It’s also important to think about the data that is generated by drones. Legally this data is exactly the same as any other public data you hold and will need to be stored securely, in line with the requirements set out in the General Data Protection Regulation and the Data Protection Act 2018.

Insurance requirements

Appropriate insurance is required to fly any drone for commercial purposes and local authorities must ensure this is in place for their own drones but also those used by any contractors.

Cover must include around £1m of liability cover as a minimum, with limits of £5m or £10m more commonly purchased. It may be possible to provide this cover through some public liability policies, depending on the number and type of craft and their uses.

Similarly, it may be more appropriate to arrange specific aviation liability insurance. This will cover injury and property damage to third parties.

Various extensions can also be included on commercial drone insurance. These include cyber, in the event of a drone being hacked into and the data stolen.

But, with drones set to play an increasing part in a local authority’s operations, as well as becoming more commonplace both commercially and recreationally, ensuring the right policies and insurance are in place is a must.

More information

If you would like more information about the regulations surrounding drone usage or the insurance implications, please contact Deborah Ball at deborah.ball@aon.co.uk.

More information

If you would like more information about the regulations surrounding drone usage or the insurance implications, please contact Deborah Ball