In Austria, privacy is king. The advent of drones is thus seen with a good measure of skepticism and trepidation. But you can still pilot them legally.
Lying in the sun around one of Vienna’s many open-air swimming pools is a summer pastime nearly as essential to the Viennese DNA as lingering over a coffee or white wine spritzer at one of the city’s many outdoor cafés. This year, some may think twice before disrobing in public after last summer’s incidents involving camera drones flying over public pools, filming the nudist areas.
The incident involved a camera drone flying over Vienna’s Gänsehäufel, discovered after it hit a tree and the owners came to collect it. The young “pilots” were reported to the police. Camera drones were also spotted over other public pools, though the owners could not be identified.
Can the state regulate their use? Yes, but ensuring compliance is virtually impossible.
Already in early 2014, legislators recognized the potential for drones to cause disruption and amended the Aviation Act to require that owners of drones weighing between 0.25 and five kilos apply for an operating license. In addition, the owner must be at least 16 years of age and the drone must be insured.
Since the requirement went into effect in 2014, more than 4,500 applications for operating licenses have been submitted to the Aviation Authority. The high volume of drone sales in Austria – 1,050 in 2017, according to Branchenradar – suggests that not everyone who is buying a drone is seeking a license. Operating a drone without a license carries an administrative penalty of up to 22,000 euros.
So, how can individuals or property owners protect themselves from the prying lens of a drone?
In some areas, the cities, towns or property owners are posting notices that drones are prohibited in certain areas.
But there is a legal gray area between the use of airspace, which is free in principle, and violation of personal property rights. Making a case of infringement of property rights is more difficult when it comes to a drone than, say, a car driving onto your property. Such a case can succeed only if the drone was flying too close to the ground, which could be seen as a major violation as it would have a larger potential for interference. However, the exact circumstances of a breach of the law can be determined only by the courts.
Other countries have begun to deploy non-legal means to defend against intrusive drones. Individual no-fly zones have been created in the United States. France instead relies on birds of prey to go after drones. Japan hunts down drones that have “lost their way” through “state anti-aircraft drones.”
Regulating the use of drones will likely become more complicated as retail companies and delivery services look to the pilotless aircraft to deliver packages (see “Solving the Last Mile,” page 48). As early as 2016, the Australian Post delivered small parcels by drones. In Germany, Deutsche Post’s “parcel copter” has been in use on a smaller scale since 2014. The supermarket chain Walmart also wants to have purchases delivered by drone in the future. Amazon and Apple are to follow.
There is little doubt of the further proliferation of drones in the years to come. For hobby “pilots” it’s best to obtain the necessary permits to avoid penalties and, above all, to give sufficient thought to where you are flying your drone.