Soaring to new heights

Cheap, efficient and durable – Eimear Dodd learns more about the commercial uses for drone technology.

The civilian drone industry was keen to emphasise the adaptability and cost-effectiveness of these small aircrafts at the recent Drone Tech Expo in the RDS.

The three day event, now in its second year,  was attended over the weekend by businesses, regulatory bodies, and amateur enthusiasts. There were also talks by international speakers on topics such as the challenges of being a professional drone pilot and using drones as a tool for ground mapping.


One of the speakers, Bart Zondag, had built a drone with a “longer endurance” than other designs. “What I wanted was a drone that could do one square kilometre in one flight. It’s more efficient for the end user.”

Zondag’s design has a single long rotor blade. Its appearance is more like a miniaturised helicopter than many of the other drones on display.

“I’ve seen a drone coming down from 70 metres. That’s not something you want to see. The single rotor is a glider and won’t come down like a brick. So you [have time] to act on that.”


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Bart Zondag with his drone design, image by Eimear Dodd


A growing market

Drones can be fitted with cameras or other sensors to gather information. The drones are seen as a means for businesses to save time and money.

These tiny aircraft are being used to sow crops, reduce waste in the construction industry, and improve workplace safety.

Caroline Gunning of the Dublin Fire Brigade said that drones are now being used by the service “part-time for safety and the management of resources.” The drones are fitted with thermal cameras which can identify heat signature so that a fire can be brought under control quickly.


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Extreme Racer Drone, image by Eimear Dodd


Also known as Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), drones have long been used for military purposes, particularly by the United States and the United Kingdom.

This type of aircraft has long been associated with the notion of cheaper and more targeted warfare with fewer personnel and civilian casualties. In practice, however, their record is more controversial.

The use of drones has resulted in high numbers of civilian injuries and deaths.  A 2012 report by Stanford University  found that drone use in Pakistan may have been counter-productive to US strategic concerns in Pakistan because of its negative effects on civilians’ lives.

The civilian market, however, is a more recent development, and it’s an area that’s likely to experience further growth in the next few years.  

A recent report by PWC estimated the value of the global market for the commercial use of drones at over 127 billion dollars. Their research identifies industry and agriculture as sectors with the most potential for drone applications. 


I’ve seen a drone coming down from 70 metres. That’s not something you want to see.”

Bart Zondag


America’s Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) has projected that sales of drones in the United States for commercial and private use may increase from 2.5 million to 7 million by 2020.

However, it seems that amateur enthusiasts also use their toys for more practical reasons.


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One of the drones on display at the Drone and Tech Expo, Image by Eimear Dodd


“People use [the drone] to inspect their rooftops. It’s safer than going up a ladder and cheaper than a cherrypicker” said Vernon Kerswell, founder of Extreme Fliers.

But it wasn’t all business at Drone Tech Expo. High-speed drones raced one another around an indoor course. These devices were piloted over and under obstacles until they reached the finish line or crashed to the ground.

It was like something out of a science-fiction movie. Almost unbelievable. Except drones are very real. And they are here to stay.


video by Eimear Dodd


Facts and figures

It’s hard to put an exact figure on the number of drones in Ireland. Since December 2015, all drones over 1kg and under 25kg must be registered with the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA). In January 2017, the IAA said that 6,000 drones and small aircraft had been registered. The actual number of drones in Ireland is likely to be higher than this.


There are numerous regulations  and guidelines which restrict the use of drones in Irish airspace including:

  • if it will be a danger to another aircraft in flight
  • over an assembly of people
  • farther than 300m from the operator
  • in a negligent or reckless manner so as to endanger life or property of others
  • over 400ft (120m) above ground level
  • over urban areas or in restricted areas eg prisons
  • unless the operator has permission from the landowner for take-off and landing

The commercial use of drones requires separate permission by the IAA. Professional drone pilots must have a license and have completed training at an approved training provider. The pilot license is valid for two years.

The Data Protection Commissioner has also issued guidance about the use of drones and their potential to invade an individual’s privacy. Recreational users are advised to ensure that their drones do not capture images or information about third parties. Commercial operators must have adequate controls in place for the control and processing of data.

Ireland’s first approved delivery by drone in Ireland took place on 28 January 2017 in Dun Laoghaire, County Dublin. A parcel containing medical supplies was carried from the shoreline to a boat almost 200 metres offshore.




Feature Image Tornado H920 plus drone on display at Drone and Tech Expo, Image by Eimear Dodd

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