Drones bring on new risks

Every month, approximately 2,000 drones are sold in Belgium. These unmanned aircrafts are increasingly being utilised for commercial purposes. The increase in drone traffic, however, brings about new risks. How can you protect yourself?

Drones bring on new risks

The figures on the rising popularity of drones speak for themselves. Today in the United States it is estimated that 600,000 drones are being used for commercial or professional purposes. In the Netherlands, we have 150,000 drones and more and more companies are using them.

Pizza on board

In the past, drones were largely used by defence departments to carry out reconnaissance flights, take photographs, scout enemy territory and even for eliminating enemy targets. Today they are more and more used for civilian purposes. The police may implement drones to track down drug plantations or get-away cars, or to map out the scene of a crime or a traffic accident in order to track down suspects.

Drones are also increasingly being used by emergency services during rescue operations. With natural disasters, they can quickly map out large areas and find survivors. In the Netherlands, they even have an ambulance drone equipped with a defibrillator. Whenever the emergency number is called, a defibrillator can now be on the scene faster than ever before.

And businesses are now also beginning to see the advantages of using drones. They seem especially efficient in the management and control of livestock, protecting larges sites, verifying electrical upper cables and telecommunication networks, aerial cartography and so on. Some companies take it a step further and utilise them as a stunt. The pizza chain Domino’s, for example, used the ‘domicopter’ to deliver pizzas to its customers and the organiser of a South African music festival implemented drones to bring cans of beer to the festival goers. Via a mini-parachute, a can of beer would be dropped at exactly the right location of the visitor.

More drones, more accidents

The use of drones does not only lead to more opportunities, however, it is also unavoidably linked to more accidents. The risks involved in drone traffic are considerable. That is why Belgian lawmakers strictly regulate the use of unmanned aircraft in a Royal Decree.

The Royal Decree (KB) of 10 April 2016 on the use of drones in the Belgian airspace took effect on 04/25/2016. It distinguishes between different categories of aircraft, whereby each category has its own unique rules and regulations. Different requirements apply in the areas of training, certificates, exams,… and insurances depending on the category the drone is classified in.

Please find set out below an overview of the legislation that clearly shows which drone is classified in which category. Once drone users have established the category, they can see which requirements they need to comply with in order to use the aircraft and insure it.

drones

Lawmakers have made a distinction between the private use and commercial/professional use of drones. For private use (one drone < 1 kg on private domain), a BA private life will suffice. It would be wise to check your policy or have your coverage confirmed by your broker or insurer. For drones of class 1 A/B and 2, that are often used for professional purposes, reference is made to Article 7 of the (EU) Ordinance no. 785/2004 of the European Parliament and the Council concerning insurance requirements for air traffickers and exploiters of (aviation) aircrafts. This ordinance requires airline companies to insure their liability in respect of passengers, freight, mail and third parties. The minimum insured amount is +/- EUR 1,000,000, and the insurance conditions are not specified further.

Insurance of commercial drones

Besides the legal context, it is also important to reflect on the risks involved with flying drones for commercial purposes. We will also delve deeper into the insurance options to protect yourself against these risks.

Damage to third parties

Your drone can crash on a building or worse: on passers-by. In 2016, a man lost control over a drone that was flying towards France at high speed. Jet fighters were called in to localise the aircraft and follow it. The drone ultimately crashed near a field and caused no further damage. However, the owner of the drone did receive an invoice from the air force.

Whether it concerns a basic craft for use on private property or a more complex model that flies in public airspace, you should always check your personal liability insurance. Insurers almost always apply a general exclusion for aircrafts. This means that you insurer does not automatically provide cover for drones.

Depending on the insurer, coverage for drones can be intercalated in the personal liability policy. Some insurers are unable to do this. If this is the case, you will need to take out a separate policy for the drone.

We would like to draw your attention to the fact that Belgian lawmakers require an insurance obligation with a minimum insured amount. In order for it to legally compliant, the drone must be insured for EUR 1,000,000. However, depending on the purposes for which the drone will be used, it is possible that you may require a higher insured amount. It is important to carefully determine the insurance limits in terms of the real risks. In order to determine this, you need to clarify what the drone will be used for and which possible damage it could cause. It goes without saying that a drone that flies above an agricultural region to take photos is less risky than a drone that is used, for example, to inspect a wind park.

And finally, it cannot be ruled out that use of a drone could violate someone’s privacy. After all, privacy legislation also applies to images and information collected by drones. The protection provided by the policy in this respect is often limited or non-existent. Possible accessions must be negotiated with the insurer. The cyber policy usually does provide for this risk.

Airframe

Another risk that drone users take, involves the drone itself. During a crash, the drone and equipment can be totally destroyed. Certainly for the more expensive aircrafts, it is recommended to also take out a personal damage insurance. Specialised insurers offer this warranty in combination with personal liability insurance.

Tailor-made advice

Are you using drones for professional or commercial purposes? Then we would be more than happy to advise you on how you can insure any risk involved. If you wish, we can draw up a quote for a tailor-made insurance plan for you. Our colleague Koen Bauwens (koen.bauwens@vanbreda.be) will gladly assist you.

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