Introduction

In the past five years, The Bahamas has seen a prolific rise in the operation of unmanned aerial vehicles, more commonly known as 'drones'.

Countries such as Canada, the United Kingdom, Italy, France, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand have been proactive in updating existing legislation and enacting drone legislation.

In 2011 the International Civil Aviation Organisation issued a circular which stated that its aim in addressing unmanned aviation was to provide a basic regulatory framework, through standards and recommended practices, with supporting procedures for air navigation services and guidance material to create routine operations of drones throughout the world.

Regulatory framework

A 2015 industry consultation on the implementation of regulations regarding the operation of drones in The Bahamas resulted in the amendment of Schedule 11 (new Subpart L and the creation of Schedule 27 in the Bahamas Air Safety Regulations (2016)). Schedule 11 regulates the commercial use of drones while Schedule 27 regulates their recreational use. Prior to the new and revised the Bahamas Air Safety Regulations, drone operations were not specifically regulated by The Bahamas Civil Aviation Authority's predecessor, the Bahamas Civil Aviation Department.

The Bahamas Air Safety Regulations provide that drones may not be operated:

  • when visibility is less than one statue mile;
  • where the base of the lowest cloud is less than 500 feet;
  • in prohibited or restricted areas;
  • in controlled airspace;
  • near airports (within five miles);
  • at excessive heights (above 400 feet);
  • near congested or populated areas (within 500 feet);
  • near an organised open-air assembly (within 500 feet);
  • near a vessel, vehicle or structure (within 100 feet);
  • within close proximity to any person (within 175 feet);
  • at night;
  • beyond visual line of sight;
  • in a dangerous or reckless manner so as to endanger other persons or their property; and
  • prior consent to overfly (ie, above property without prior consent from any persons occupying that property or the property owner).

In 2015 Customs placed a restriction on the import of drones and now requires prior permission. A certificate of registration must first be secured from the Civil Aviation Department in order to import a drone. Customs will detain drones at the border if a certificate of registration has not been obtained. Drones already in The Bahamas must be registered, and a failure to do so may result in the drone being detained by the Bahamas Civil Aviation Authority.

Opportunity

The Bahamas is ripe with opportunity and well positioned in what has become a new global industry within the civil aviation sector. As the commercial use of drones continues to develop, the Bahamas Civil Aviation Authority will be tasked with providing for their use beyond visual line of sight and during night-time hours. The numerous remote islands in the country afford many possibilities regarding the operation and testing of drones as they become more sophisticated and used for various operations, including:

  • search and rescue;
  • hurricane damage assessment;
  • surveillance use for the Royal Bahamas Police Force and the Royal Bahamas Defence Force;
  • geo-mapping;
  • distribution of medicine; and
  • insurance.

Drone operators, whether for commercial or recreational use, must be mindful of privacy, data collection and use and nuisance. To date, there have been no test cases in the Supreme Court of The Bahamas regarding the inappropriate or unsafe operation of drones although the Civil Aviation Act 2016 does provide for offences and penalties.

For further information on this topic please contact Llewellyn V Boyer-Cartwright at Callenders & Co by telephone (+1 242 322 2511) or email (lboyer-cartwright@callenders-law.com). The Callenders & Co website can be accessed at www.callenders-law.com.

This article was first published by the International Law Office, a premium online legal update service for major companies and law firms worldwide. Register for a free subscription.