Tuesday, 17 December 2019

Questions (69)

Jack Chambers

Question:

69. Deputy Jack Chambers asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the action he plans to take to address the fact that less than half of Air Corps pilots feel well informed on the regulation of remotely piloted aircraft systems; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [52901/19]

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Written answers (Question to Defence)

The Irish Aviation Authority has statutory responsibility under the Irish Aviation Authority Act 1993 for the regulation of Civilian Aviation in Ireland. This includes remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) or, as they are more commonly known, Drones. In Ireland, no drones are permitted to fly within 5km of an airport.

The Air Corps monitors developments in drones and Remotely Piloted Air Systems (RPAS) on an on-going basis. While the regulation of drone/RPAS in civil airspace is a matter for the Irish Aviation Authority, the Irish Air Corps is aware of their growing numbers and capabilities. The Defence Forces are aware that non-military drones/RPAS have flown near or over Defence Forces installations without approval, which is of concern from both a flight safety and a security perspective.

The threat faced from drones is primarily one of safety when they are not operated correctly. Drone Operators need to educate themselves and they need to fully understand they are in operation of an unmanned aircraft and that they understand the rules of flying and the restrictions and prohibitions. Where drone operators do not observe the rules in force, this places other air operators and the general public in danger. The Irish Aviation Authority take user education and training seriously and has developed a suite of guidance material tailored to both a recreational and professional audience.

The Deputy might also note that the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport chairs the National Civil Aviation Security Committee. The Defence Organisation, including members of the Air Corps, participate on the National Civil Aviation Threat and Risk Group which is part of the National Civil Aviation Security Committee and they actively contribute to discussions on how the State can keep abreast of, and respond to, the threats and risks associated with increased drone activity in Ireland.

It is also of note that drones do not just present a threat but also an opportunity. Both the Defence Forces and Civil Defence have deployed their drones in assistance of the relevant Lead Government Agencies with regard to assisting in search and rescue operations and in security operations. This support will continue and the utility of drones is open ended as the technology develops.

The Defence Forces deliver military training programmes and modules meeting national, EU and international standards. They also engage with external educational institutions in order to facilitate continued and ongoing organisational learning. This engagement with national and international educational institutions, military and civilian, aims to ensure that the Defence Forces maintains up to date knowledge and competence with regards to best international practice and employ all relevant modern training methods in the execution of its various roles as assigned by Government.

The General Officer Commanding and Director of Military Aviation has assured me that training is ongoing and he is satisfied that there is a robust programme in place to ensure members of the Air Corps are prepared for and can respond to hazards.