In the past few months, there has been a surge of drone related incidents. In January, for example, an individual landed a drone on the lawn of the White House. Similar incidents cropped up in Europe when drones flew close to nuclear plants in Belgium and France. As for Latin America, the region is actively using drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), for civilian purposes – for example, within the sphere of journalism – and to obtain more data.
For example, in January 2014, La Prensa Grafica, one of El Salvador’s leading dailies, reported that it had acquired a drone, adding to the number of regional publications resorting to “drone journalism.” In May 2013, La Prensa Peru flew a UAV over a posh neighborhood in downtown Lima in order to give a bird’s eye-view of renovations to the renowned Larco Avenue. Months later, in December, the Peruvian daily El Comercio launched its drone, reportedly a DJI Phantom, to film a fire that was taking place in downtown Lima. Since the fire occurred between several buildings, it was too dangerous for a helicopter to fly low enough to film. Hence, the quadcopter was deployed. Similarly, the Brazilian daily Folha do Sao Paulo utilized a drone to record major protests in Sao Paulo in 2013.
The rising interest in drone use for civilian purposes prompted the Iberoamerican University in Mexico and other high-profile research centers to organize a day-long symposium on the future of journalism in October 2014 – one of the panels was aptly entitled “Hackers, drones and journalism.” It is encouraging that the Latin American media outlets are not blindly using drones, but rather discussing when and how UAVs should be utilized. However, it is equally important to observe how regional governments will monitor, and if necessary limit, the use of UAVs over their aerial territories.
So far, only a few countries in the region are pushing for limits to drone usage — though one assumes that this number will increase in the near future. Already this year, Chile’s Directorate General of Civilian Aeronautics has drafted a proposal outlining how civilian drones should be utilized. According to the Chilean media, one of the proposed requirements notes that the operator must receive a certificate of instruction. Additionally, the UAVs cannot weigh more than six kilograms or fly farther than 500 meters from the operator. The proposal, known as DAN 151, would also prohibit drones from flying within two kilometers of airports.
Another country that has drafted legislation is Argentina. In February, the National Administration of Civilian Aviation (ANAC) published a proposal to regulate civilian drone usage. Among its limitations, the ANAC prohibits drones from flying within 200 meters of residential areas and highways, as well as within one kilometer of cities and towns. Finally, it is also worth mentioning that in recent months, Costa Rica and Mexico have drafted regulations on the use of civilian drones as well.
So the era of the civilian drone has begun in Latin America, best exemplified by the boom of drone-journalism, but with it comes the responsibility of regulating this new trend. So far, Latin America has not experienced any drone-related incidents like those in in the United States or Europe — proper legislation is critically important to keep that streak going.