New rules for hobbyist drone operators

New restrictions in the Cayman Islands prohibit flying drones near airports and the prison.

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.

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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.

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  1. The airport authority is correct that it is essential to avoid risk of a collision between a manned aircraft and a drone.
    But 3 miles seems much more than needed. Even one mile away manned aircraft are well above the operating altitude of these toys.

    I would suggest a one mile limit combined with a maximum altitude of say 300 feet outside the one mile limit. Most of these toys in fact don’t go above 100 feet.

    As for the limit around the prison. The one mile restriction should be no more than 300 yards.

  2. It is much more than needed! A question I have for Mr. Cockerill is. What type of training did you and your employees receive that is so different than what is used by the experienced hobbyist? As far as I know, the buddy box system, computer simulator, the preflight checks and maintenance routines are all used by the hobbyist as well! Only difference is the operations manual, insurance, fees and flight logs that are to be recorded, along with notifying air traffic control which are required by the regulatory body to conduct flights for commercial use. If it were not for the hobbyist Mr. Cockerill, you would not be in the position you are. Who do you think got the technology to where it is today? A bit old tech but still pretty advanced for what it is. You need to stop making people think that your equipment is superior to what is available off the shelf. Instead of assisting with increasing the no fly restrictions, why not send out a press release pointing them to the model club? They can receive the same flight training and also learn how to do it safely, we have been doing this for a number years.
    A big thank you as well. We now have to find a new location to fly as we were told to cease flying at our current site.