The Department of Geology and Mines is using a drone to map the Thimphu-Wangdue tunnel area. Its use is expected to significantly reduce the cost of the geological and engineering investigation, thereby also potentially preventing the overall project cost from being exceeded, which is normally the case here.

Besides this, the Ugyen Wangchuk Institute for Conservation and Environment also owns a drone. The institute had planned to use the drone to map snow cover, forest degradation, deforestation, forest fires, wildlife, and shifting tree lines, among others.

The health ministry had also planned to explore the use of drones to transport items between referral hospitals and the BHUs. However, costs have stalled the project apparently.

Undoubtedly, the potential benefits of using drones, especially in a mountainous country like Bhutan has been recognised and is being pursued.

It is clear that we need to exploit this technology. But for that to happen, we need regulations in place first.

The Bhutan Civil Aviation Authority is working on regulations for drone technology. It has been working on them for quite some time now.

Until the regulations are in place, the use of drones are banned unless it has to be used for special purposes. Then special permission is provided.

However, with the prices of drones decreasing annually, private use of such drones is sure to pick up. This is apparent with drone footage of the country now available online.

While there is a ban in place, enforcement of the ban is limited as the Bhutan Civil Aviation Authority lacks personnel to monitor such activities.

As a result, there is a need to introduce some regulations as soon as possible such as the declaration of no-fly zones, permitted altitudes and speeds, and on respecting privacy of other citizens, among others. Having a registration system and having those registered go through crash courses on acceptable drone usage would prevent any potential incidents that could stall usage of drones.

While use of drones for social and public purposes like monitoring forest cover and wildlife, among others, is clearly beneficial, use of drones for commercial purposes could also be permitted.

For instance, the film industry could be permitted to use drones to shoot scenes or a private security firm to provide surveillance during an event. Once drone services are permitted, businesses will find  a way to use them especially if they can bring down costs.

But it is important that we have regulations in place first.