Drone regulations soon to take effect

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By Latrishka Thomas

As of November 1st 2019, the Air Transport Licensing Board (ATLB) will be implementing regulations governing the use of drones, model aircraft, or any future remote technologies operated within the shores of Antigua and Barbuda.

Ambassador Brian Challenger, a member of the ATLB, revealed this during a media conference on Wednesday where he said that the government is seeking to address widespread concerns about the use of remotely piloted technologies.

“Less than two months ago, the Minister [of Aviation] signed the regulations, what we call the Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems Regulations 2019, and the primary focus is civil aviation safety and security. It also focuses on other aspects such as establishing restricted areas in places like prisons, military facilities, police stations, etcetera, but the primary focus of the act is really focused on civil aviation,” Challenger said.

These new regulations are classified into two categories: aircraft which can only go as high as 100 feet and are being used for non-commercial purposes (where most drones fall); and anything that can fly above 100 feet.

The ATLB in the Ministry of Civil Aviation is the body responsible for licensing and registration of the remotely piloted aircraft.

Also, with increased importance, these laws will carry hefty penalties if breached.

One such penalty is the unsafe flight operation penalty which the Senior Legislative Drafter within the Ministry of Legal Affairs, Collin Hodge, sought to explain.

“This is where an operator has conducted what we refer to as an unsafe flight, meaning that either he has operated an aircraft system that was not properly maintained or it had some sort of defect … the licensing board in this case has the power to suspend or revoke any or all of its approvals, authorisations or certificates that it issued to the operator,” he said.

Another penalty that will be enforced for breach of these regulations is the contravention of air worthiness penalty.

Hodge explained this, saying, “Air worthiness means that the system, [the] aircraft itself, has to meet certain manufacturing specifications, should not be modified substantially, and should be fit for its purpose. It should be able to operate the way it was designed to.”

Persons who fail to comply with this regulation will be liable to a fine of $500 or an alternative of six months in prison.

Even weightier is the contravention of operations penalty which carries a fine of up to $20,000 or imprisonment for up to two years and the intentional disruptive or dangerous use of the aircraft system penalty which could result in a fine of up to $350,000 or imprisonment for up to five years.

However, Ambassador Challenger also stated that the existing guidelines that were produced in March will remain in force, based of the Civil Aviation Act from where they were derived.

A few of those guidelines, laid out in a March 22nd report, were that a drone or model airplane operator should not operate without permission in populous areas such as highways, beaches, stadiums, sporting events and festivities.

The reports also stated that residents must refrain from operating drones, model planes or other remote controlled aircraft at night or in low visibility conditions without permission.

The safety and security guidelines listed many restricted areas such as Pigotts, Fitches Creek, Cassada Gardens, Hodges Bay, Clare Hall, Potters, Skerritts Pasture, St. Johnston’s Village, the Antigua Recreation Grounds, Her Majesty’s Prison, Upper Gambles, North Sound (including Sir Vivian Richards Cricket Gound), Fort James, St. John’s Harbour and Codrington, Barbuda.

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