The Civil Aviation Authority of the Cayman Islands has issued new restrictions prohibiting users of small unmanned aircraft, commonly known as drones, from flying the vehicles near airports and the prison.
Drone operators will not be permitted to fly within a 3-nautical-mile zone from the perimeter of airports in the Cayman Islands unless they receive special permission from the director of Civil Aviation and the consent of air traffic control.
Alastair Robertson, director of Air Navigation Services Regulation for the CAA, said permission is unlikely to be granted to members of the general public to operate drones within the airport zone.
Individuals who violate the new rules will face prosecution and, if convicted, could be fined up to $6,000 or imprisoned for up to two years.
In Grand Cayman, the new restricted area for drones includes all of George Town and extends north all the way to the The Great House on Seven Mile Beach and east as far as the Countryside Shopping Village in Savannah.
The restriction also applies to a 3-nautical-mile radius from the perimeters of Charles Kirkconnell International Airport in Cayman Brac and the Edward Bodden Airfield in Little Cayman. The restriction is aimed at mitigating the risk of a collision between manned and unmanned aircraft.
According to the Civil Aviation Authority, recent reports suggest there has been a significant increase in the use of drones, particularly in the vicinity of Owen Roberts International Airport.
Mr. Robertson said that in addition to seeing more drones near the airport, there have been more reports from Customs about individuals bringing drones into the country.
“We get a lot of inquiries from members of the general public and also visitors to the island about what our stance is on drones, and in that sense we can also gauge the increase [in the number of drones being used in Cayman],” Mr. Robertson said.
The aviation authority said in a press release that as a consequence, “The risk of an incident or accident caused by the impact of an SUA [Small Unmanned Aircraft] with a conventional aircraft or its ingestion by a jet engine increases proportionally.”
While there have been no such incidents in Cayman Islands airspace to date, an increasing number of such incidents have been reported elsewhere, including a number of near misses in the United States and in Europe.
Technological advances have made drones a more affordable commodity, and sales have increased internationally. As a result of their availability, the aviation authority said, the devices are now being operated as toys rather than as aircraft, “often without due regard to the possible consequences of flying them in the very confined environment of an island community reliant upon its aviation links for both survival and development.”
“Many of these drones are in the hands of children,” Mr. Robertson said. “They’re bought for presents and you have no idea the level of parental control that’s placed upon them. And even adults have acted irresponsibly with drones.”
Adam Cockerill, co-founder of a local small unmanned aircraft vehicle company, AirVu, said the new restriction does not affect licensed operators, who can still operate within the 3-nautical-mile zone provided they have permission from air traffic control.
Unlike many drone hobbyists, Mr. Cockerill said, licensed operators “put a lot of time, money and resources” into gaining a license, having the appropriate insurance and ensuring that their operators are trained professionals.”
He said he is glad the aviation authority is enacting this new restriction, and that it is important to have some rules about “where you can and cannot fly” unmanned aerial vehicles.
“From a licensed operator perspective, all we’ve ever wanted was a level playing field with other licensed operators, so we want to see rules and restrictions enforced,” Mr. Cockerill said. “It’s the hobbyists that really need to pay attention to this, and we’re glad to see that the Cayman Aviation Authority is enforcing this to prevent accidents and increase safety.”
Mr. Cockerill said if a hobbyist did cause an accident, such an event could “cast a bad shadow” on the commercial industry.
In addition to the prohibited zones around airports, drone operators are also prohibited from flying within a 1-nautical-mile zone from the perimeter of Northward Prison without permission from the aviation authority and the prison director.
The prison restriction has been established to enhance the security of the facility.
In the United States and Canada, there have been reports of individuals using drones to drop drugs and weapons into prison yards.
“We’ve not seen any specific drops or anything by drones, but we’ve heard that drones are around and obviously, we need to be mindful that they could be used for things like that,” said Director of Prisons Neil Lavis.