BCAA lifts ban on drones

… with immediate effect but under strict compliance of 10 conditions

Aviation: Revoking its earlier notification restricting the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) or drones, the Bhutan Civil Aviation Authority (BCAA) has issued another notification granting permission to use drones under strict conditions with immediate effect.

The BCAA had imposed a temporary ban on flying drones until a regulation comes into effect. However exclusive permissions were granted when drones were used for social causes like telemedicine, surveys and studies for example. This was to ensure aviation safety with more aircraft and helicopters flying in  Bhutanese airspace.

Although the BCAA has now granted permission to operate drones, it has come up with 10 conditions for strict and immediate compliance.

BCAA director, Wangdi Gyaltshen said the conditions are to streamline the use of drones and it is basically a summary of the regulation, which is being drafted.

Since no country in the region has implemented a regulation on UAVs, he said it is better to wait for other countries to implement it first. “We don’t want to be the first country to implement,” he said.

Although there are regulations in the West, the director said these are too complicated and voluminous, and not suitable for Bhutan.

“While we want to allow the use of drones for general purposes, we also don’t want to entertain walk-in users,” he said.

The notification states that applicants must obtain security clearance from the Royal Bhutan Police and Royal Bhutan Army and more clearances from the home ministry, BICMA and Paro airport’s Air Traffic Control (ATC).

The operators are also required to submit technical specifications of drones, pilot experience and submit documentary evidence that the pilot has adequate experience and competence.

This, Wangdi Gyaltshen said, would ensure that only professional flyers operate the UAV, who would then also be held responsible for safety, privacy and security.

It has been made mandatory to fly with direct Visual Line of Sight (VLOS) and it must not be operated at a height exceeding 300ft (90m) above the ground or water.

Use of drones are not permitted in areas within 5km of airports and air routes.

However, monitoring is the biggest challenge BCAA will face and it is aggravated by the lack of human resources in the agency.

The authority has informed tourists of the conditions and the police to help them monitor. The director said BCAA will be requesting the dzongdags as well.

“We cannot do policing,” the director said, adding that the authority could not stop the few instances of drone operations that were reported.

Tshering Dorji

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