As a photographer, videographer, and drone hobbyist, I follow with great interest all the media attention drones have received lately. Unfortunately, drone news coverage here in my country, Colombia, has been skewed towards the negative, with stories of isolated incidents like the Connecticut “Gun-Drone” and the Mexican “Drug-Drone” making big splashes on every possible media outlet.
So I wasn’t surprised two weeks ago when our FAA equivalent, the Aeronáutica Civil, released a new iteration of its National Drone Regulation. I knew it wasn’t going to be good, what I didn’t anticipate is that it would be a collection of some of the most absurd, abusive, illogical laws I’ve ever seen.
Below is a summary of the contradictory requirements commercial drone operators must comply with in order to operate legally, with a few of my own comments immediately after each point. To be fair, the 34-page document mentions several other regulations, and most are relatively standard international restrictions such as maximum altitude, distance from operator, no-fly zones, no flying over crowds, etc.
If your Spanish is up to the task (or if you’re willing to navigate Google Translation’s sea of ‘unique’ grammar), you can read the entire thing here:
I will just be focusing on the 4 points which make it impossible for Colombian drone operators to fly legally:
#1: A Required Training Course
We must take a Private Pilot Course identical to some of the basic courses real plane pilots must take. This might seem like a good idea, only there are a few catches: it must be taken at an aeronautics school authorised by the Aeronáutica Civil, and to date none has been authorised to teach such courses.
Also, should they be authorised, several of these schools have confirmed these courses will cost at least $5,000 USD. Oh, and by law they must be renewed every six months.
#2: Mandatory Insurance
We must take out insurance policies covering damages to third parties in case of any incident. Again, no problem here… except no Colombian insurance company offers such coverage for drones at the time of writing this article.
#3: Communication with Air Traffic Control
Quite in accordance with drone policies in many other countries (and with common sense), we must not fly within a 5km radius of any airport. However, we must make sure we establish radio communication with the nearest airport control tower before and during every flight.
Yes, that’s correct: all drone operators must own radios with ranges upwards of 5km and capable of the frequencies airports use, the cheapest of which cost more than a DJI Phantom and require a license to operate legally. Not to mention how many airport controllers would be required to handle all these completely unnecessary communications, and how many plane pilots might be affected by drone operators interfering with their quite necessary communications with airports.
#4: Flight Plans 15 Days Before
Before every flight, we must submit “flight plans” both to the Aeronáutica Civil and to the Colombian Air Force. They must be submitted with at least 15 working days of anticipation to each flight, and in addition to the details of the flight, each request must justify why that same job cannot be performed by a regular airplane.
This last point contains an obvious hint as to why the Aeronáutica Civil has taken such a drastic stance on drones. It turns out this entity is tightly connected to the handful of aviation companies that used to make thousands of dollars on every flight involving aerial photography, videography, and the like, but with the widespread use of drones, their precious cash cow is dying. So unsurprisingly, corruption is the real motivation behind this new law, not the safety of our citizens.
The only positive outcome of this new law, is that it has united drone operators throughout the country. We are in the process of creating a National Association of Drone Operators, we’ve already elected a commission of experts who are leading the process and seeking legal advice as to which steps must be taken to convince the Aeronáutica Civil that, yes, regulation must exist, but it must be fair, inclusive, and truly in accordance with international standards.
We have a long and tough road (or sky?) ahead of us, but you can help. We’ve created a petition on change.org. This way we can show there is widespread international support for our cause. If you’ve read this far, you’re probably not too busy right now, so please take a minute to sign it. Colombia is establishing a dangerous legal precedent with this absurd set of regulations.
Who knows? Your country might be next.
About the author: Pablo Castro is the founder of Intelygente, a video and photography production company based in Bogotá, Colombia. He has been operating camera drones since 2010.