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The risks of flying drones for fun

Personal Finance

If you have a drone that you use for recreational purposes, be aware that you may be faced with a massive damages suit if you cause someone harm or damage property while operating the drone. And at the moment, insurers are unlikely to cover you for that sort of liability.

Johannes du Plessis, the legal adviser at Risk Benefit Solutions, says insuring commercial drone operators is significantly less risky for insurers than providing cover for private operators.

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The reason is that commercial drone operators, unlike recreational users, are required to meet certain criteria under the civil aviation regulations, which mitigate the risks involved.

“The legal regulations formulated by the SA Civil Aviation Authority require a pilot who operates drones for reward to be trained by a flight school once the dron es reach certain heights and distances. The drone pilot learns the legal restrictions of flying the drone, needs to display competence in operating the equipment and is required to pass a health examination,” Du Plessis says.

“As a result of such training, insuring against the loss of a commercial drone under a drone insurance policy, and insuring the pilot against any liability for damage or injury under such a policy is relatively simple, since most of the risk management controls are in place.

“It is a fact that the number of incidents among trained drone operators is lower than among untrained drone operators,” he says.

Consequently, recreational drone users are offered only very limited cover. “These policies do not cover loss or damage while the drone is in use, and pilot liability is excluded,” Du Plessis says.

“This puts you at increased personal risk of exposure.”

Not only are recreational operators under no obligation to undergo training, but they may also be discouraged by the costs. An accredited aviation school charges about R12 000.

And the risks are much higher than you might think, Du Plessis says. A drone can cause significant injury if it hits an individual, but it can do much worse than that.

“A drone that loses control and veers on to a motorway, for example, has the potential to cause not only damage to property, including motor vehicles, but also injuries and deaths.

“Also, keep in mind that the number of drones involved in near misses with passenger jets increases year on year, representing a growing risk of loss of life,” he says.

“So untrained and uninsured drone pilots not only open themselves up to millions of rand in civil liabilities resulting from injuries, deaths and damage to property, but also to criminal liability.”

Du Plessis argues that recreational drone pilots should seriously consider training at an accredited aviation school, thereby increasing the chances of being insurable.

“Training may be expensive compared with the cost of a toy drone, but the risk of not being insured should far outweigh that consideration,” he says.

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