Legislation coming to control drones in St. Kitts

The move comes as aviation experts worldwide, but particularly in the United States, press for protective measures to reduce the near misses between aircraft and drones in US airspace. The Eastern Caribbean Civil Aviation Authority also wants governments to enact local legislation.

The risks of drones operating near airports have been well known. The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced recently that through the first seven months of 2015, pilots had reported seeing drones more than 650 times — nearly triple the number of sightings reported to the FAA all of last year.

Since June, US commercial pilots and air-traffic controllers have reported to the FAA at least 25 incidents where “small drones came within a few seconds or a few feet from crashing into much larger aircraft,” wrote Craig Whitlock of the Washington Post.

R-L-B-AirportAirport Manager Elsworth Warner confirmed an active pursuit to regulate drone operations in St. Kitts and Nevis, as the use of drones in the federation begins to rise. “We’re working with the Ministry of Aviation to put in place a program that will take care of drone issues, he said, adding, “We are developing a form that will be used for registration of all drones, and there will be policies in place to have these drones regulated, so that we do not have issues with aircraft.”

According to the Ministry of Aviation, it is hoped that legislation can be in place before yearend, which means several more months of unregulated drone operations. But ATC is attempting to reach out to drone operators in the mean time.

Warner said, “Operators are urged to contact Air Traffic Control (ATC) whenever they are putting their drones in the air, especially in areas close to the airport. Those that we are aware of, that is about eight persons so far, have been complying.”

According to Warner the proposed legislation must provide authority to ATC to determine where and when drones are operated. “This will include how high and how close to the airport they can be flown,” Warner stated.

Royston Griffin of the Ministry of Aviation told MiyVue.com that the Ministry wants all drones and their operators registered. “We will be meeting with Customs to put policies in place for the importation of drones. This is to avoid persons ordering drones but not registering them,” said Griffin, who explained further,” The process will require registration prior to clearing the drones from Customs, so we can keep track of persons who have drones.”

Because of the risks that drones pose to aircraft, Griffin said the policy will include the vital input and role for ATC. It is a situation that not only addresses safety issues, said Griffin, but it is also a security matter as well.

“Prior to using drones, operators must seek and obtain permission from ATC. They would give approval for when and where drones are operated,” Griffin said, as he disclosed other important necessities for drone operators.

“Operators would be required to have appropriate insurance, and we will be discussing this shortly. Other regulations will include that operators must have visual contact with their drones at all times. They must also be a certain height and distance away from obstacles, buildings or structures.

From a security standpoint, Griffin indicated that drone operations could pose a risk to tourism and maritime operations, if used as a platform of delivery. According to Griffin, “Right now you realize you can put a package on a drone and move it anywhere you want to, and you can use it to put explosives into an area. This is a concern we have in terms of security. We have to do the risk assessments in terms of our tourism industry and how could we mitigate identified risks.”

Operating drones in close proximity to homes or people is generally going to be forbidden, however, there are some situations where it will be allowed with special permission. Such situations might include sports events, special national and public activities, he explained.

Penalties for non-compliance will also be part of the legislation on drone usage. Griffin said, “We will discuss penalties to be included in the policy. They have to be stringent to deter persons. We have to put measures in place that would cause people to think twice.”

Meanwhile, the Eastern Caribbean Civil Aviation Authority (ECCA) is working on regulation components that will be adopted in each member country.

Regiwell Francis is an operator of a drone who believes that safety must be a priority when operating drones, and especially critical near airports. “Legislation has to go in place. Somebody is always going to be affected, but you have to look at the overall safety of everyone,” Francis stated.

“Modern drones have a lot of safety feature built into them,” said Francis, “But they could be overridden.” He explained that parameters such as distance from airport and the height of flight can be overridden by the operator.

“What we have now is a lot of people coming in from overseas with drones, because they have them and they want to do what they want. They don’t know where our airports are, so we need to have legislation in place. But, I cannot see anything that they are going to put in legislation that is going to negatively affect me to the point where I would have an argument, Francis said, as he indicated that he has communicated with airport management about legislative requirements. “Not that I made any rules, but I gave some good guidelines,” said Francis.

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