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Drone Pilots in the Americas, a Thriving or Dying Breed?

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Nickolas Saraceni
ByPor Nickolas Saraceni

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From the fictional life of Photographer, Peter Parker, we received the proverb, “With great power comes great responsibility.” This was given as cautionary advice to our “hero,” who coincidentally spent his nights skimming the rooves of city skyscrapers without any regard for the airspace regulations of his city. Who would have guessed at the time that Spiderman’s Uncle Ben was making one of the earliest recorded pleas for Drone Regulation?

The power of Drone Technology today cannot be measured because there is no ceiling over the growing and seemingly limitless list of possible uses for products like the DJI Mavic 2 Zoom. From a content creator’s perspective, drones like the Mavic Pro Series are useful tools for producing quality aerial photos and videos. These drones make professional standard production more achievable with High Definition images and gimbal-stabilized 4K video, all from angles that photographers and cinematographers have only just begun to explore. 

Photo by courtesy of Nickolas Saraceni

Growing Need for International Drone Regulation

Yet while the ever-expanding capabilities of drones have taken photographic and cinematic art to new heights, these same advancements in technology have also created an equally limitless list of possibly dangerous, invasive and destructive uses for these remote-controlled quadcopters. Airports across the world have experienced delays and even shutdowns in order to avoid death and disaster at the hands of unauthorized drone operators. As a direct response to these incidents and other cases of evil misuse of this widely available and increasingly affordable technology, many countries have imposed strict regulations and restrictions on drone operation. 

In May of this year, the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) of the United States decreed by law that “recreational drone pilots are prohibited from flying in any sort of controlled airspace.” Drone companies like DJI have complied and even assisted such regulations by programming geofencing into their system flight maps which effectively blocks their products from crossing into or taking off in areas deemed no-fly zones. Commercial drone pilots and extreme drone hobbyists are still able to temporarily unblock certain geofences, but only by registering their aircraft and presenting proper certifications and licenses to the presiding federal bureau. 

While not quite as extreme as Nicaragua, who has completely outlawed drones and will confiscate them at the border, Colombia has also implemented strict regulations that require drone operators to not only notify air traffic officials before every flight, but also apply for permission with the CAAC “15 business days before the scheduled date of the flight.” And even though the Colombian National Police and Colombian Air Force presented their advancements in combatting and disabling unlawful drone flights at this year’s Colombia Drone Expo, a simple search of hashtags like #djicolombia and #dronemedellin will still return thousands of results. This means that in an emerging Tech metropolis like Medellin, a city that “has a hip and artistic ambiance making it popular among homegrown start-ups, established development companies, and nearshoring satellites,” Colombian officials have yet to implement an effective method of enforcing their drone restrictions among the ever-increasing number of drone operators in Antioquia. 

While countries like Holland and France have experimented with unleashing trained attack eagles to dismantle drones in mid-air, Colombian officials continue to push for stricter drone pilot requirements and regulations as they refine their aerial enforcement tactics. The Colombian Air Force and National Police officials who presented at ColombiaDronExpo, however, echoed the sentiment that the days of flying freely over and through Antioquia’s sea of red brick towers are at their end. 

Advice for Drone Enthusiasts

As Medellin’s Tech community continues to flourish, and new arrival companies like WebCreek seek to fill their growing offices with youthful talent, drone enthusiasts and content creators alike are now likely looking at their last recreational opportunities to explore the city from the air. Thinking back then to Uncle Ben’s advice and assuming the widely respected perspective of Peter Parker, we realize that the drone’s power is in what it can teach us, and in Medellin (along with everywhere else in the world) the  responsibility that comes with it means Pilots should understand the laws and restrictions where they fly and exercise extreme caution where solid objects like people, airplanes and buildings are involved…. Just like Spiderman.