By Annette Chrysostomou
A video clip posted on Facebook recently, showing a drone flying what is described as ‘dangerously close’ to a group of people in Limassol is an example of growing concern over the safety of these increasingly popular unmanned aircrafts.
It also shows that users are unaware or ignoring the law governing their use.
Yet so rapidly have the size, weight, cost, use and popularity of drones changed that experts are calling for the law, which was only passed in 2015, to be updated.
Marios Loukas, owner of Photoshine, one of two state approved training organisations, says the present law is lagging far behind the new technology.
He and Photoshine’s ground instructor, Tassos Karantonis, met with transport minister Marios Demetriades and members of the civil aviation department last week, asking for the legislation to be updated.
“The current law was drafted in 2015, when drones were very different,” ground instructor Karantonis told the Sunday Mail, pointing to the drone in front of him which is not much bigger than a hand. “Technology is moving fast and the regulations are obsolete.”
There are two legal categories in Cyprus, an open category for personal and recreational use which weighs less than three kilos. Anybody can operate these drones after a basic training. Then there is a special category which includes all drones for commercial use and those weighing more than three kilos. For these is a licence required.
Drones which instructors nowadays use during demonstrations are likely to be much lighter than three kilos but still for safety reasons they are required to fly at a distance of 500 metres from a person unless the individual has agreed otherwise. The law also specifies that a flying drone has to be at least 1,000 metres from buildings, again unless the owner of the building has agreed for it to fly closer.
A drone in the open category is only allowed to fly to a height of up to 50 metres during the day in full view of the operator.
Karantonis, the ground instructor for Photoshine, uses a 300-gramme drone to instruct people for free in the recreational use of drones. It has propeller guards, which the instructors say are always used at presentations to ensure that nobody is injured by spinning blades.
There is also another safeguard. The drone senses obstacles from up to five metres away and will stop when coming close to a person. It can be steered with simple hand gestures as well.
Nobody would risk harming people, he said, as there is an insurance liability of €1 million.
“Companies will start to use the smaller drones commercially, as drones are the future.”
The national laws have to follow the ones by the European Aviation Safety Agency, and the civil aviation department is currently waiting for new guidelines from the EU. These will likely be more specific as regards the size and uses of drones.
“We suggest that since the drones are becoming smaller but smarter, they must be classified into several classifications not just based on weight but according to the operations they are manufactured for such as photography and cinematography, aerial mapping, crop sprayer, weatherproof and night vision,” Loukas said, “similar to cars, buses, trucks and special vehicles.”
He said that the civil aviation also needs to issue commercial licences more quickly, as about 60 people have been trained, but only 20 licences have been granted. Those who have been trained include members of Hermes airports, the aviation department, the national guard, police and the fire services.
For this purpose the government is about to employ another person.
The future is approaching fast. Drones have exploded onto the business world in recent years and serve a variety of essential purposes in a number of industries where they are used mainly for maintenance and inspection.
They also have a wide range of other usages. In agriculture they can identify and take inventories of crops, in architecture they create accurate designs, they can deliver items from pizza to books, and they are useful for environmental monitoring – checking for forest fires and numbers of animals.
Just a month ago, auditing firm Ernst & Young announced that they are starting to use drones in their operations in Cyprus as well as in other countries.
The government also intends to use them to guard facilities such as the Vassilikos oil refinery.
And, now that they can be stopped at a short distance from a person’s face, they are already replacing other devices in taking selfies on a big scale in addition to recording weddings and other social gatherings.