A ban on drones is currently in place until regulations are developed

Aviation: Despite the operation of drones in the country being banned by the Bhutan Civil Aviation Authority (BCAA) until regulations are in place, drone footage taken in Bhutan of heritage sites like Taktsang monastery, among others, have been appearing on social media and even one local cable television channel.

While operation is restricted, drones can be operated for certain purposes but with prior authorisation from the BCAA. Use of a drone also has to be cleared by the Air Traffic Control tower at Paro airport prior.

BCAA director Wangdi Gyaltshen said that besides a drone being allowed in Bumthang and another in Zhemgang, the authority had not authorised any drones elsewhere in the country recently.

He pointed out that certain usage of drones are approved as they were being used in the larger interest.

The Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environment (UWICE) is currently using a drone for conservation purposes such as monitoring wildlife and mapping snow cover, land cover dynamics, forest fires, and tree line range shift.

In Zhemgang, the Chiba Institute of Technology from Japan was allowed to use a drone to survey the topography of Trong, which would enable the creation of 3D images of the village. The village of Trong is likely to be preserved as a heritage village.

The health ministry also test flew some drones as it is exploring the possibility of using them to deliver medicine to basic health units and to collect patient samples from the units.

Wangdi Gyaltshen pointed out that the authority was not aware of drones being operated illegally.

However, he said that if the authority comes across the illegal operation of drones, it will follow up with the home ministry and the police to pursue necessary legal action.

But pursuing legal action may prove a challenge as regulations are yet to be introduced on the operation of drones in Bhutan.

Wangdi Gyaltshen said that the authority is still working on the regulations. The BCAA has also sought the help of the Co-operative Development of Operational Safety and Continuing Airworthiness Programme – South Asia (COSCAP-SA) to develop the regulations.

“Until that time, as far as BCAA is concerned, any unauthorised flying of drones is banned, irrespective of size,” Wangdi Gyaltshen said. However, a time frame for when the regulations would be in place was not provided.

He also pointed out that in Paro, given the presence of the international airport, flying of drones is completely banned.

The BCAA banned the flying of drones in March this year.

The move was not welcomed by some who pointed out that the authority was not keeping up with developments.

While drones offer the potential of overcoming Bhutan’s challenging terrain for several purposes, they also allow users to fly over any areas that may be deemed a security sensitive area.

Gyalsten K Dorji