DRONE RULES IN VANUATU – INCONVENIENT BUT NECESSARY

Moso Island from 120 metres…..(exactly)

There’s no getting out of it. At least a two hour commitment and AUD$100 is what it will cost you if you want to fly your drone commercially in Vanuatu.

More…..

Before you leave, there’s an app to master (droneLogbook), flight routes to submit to authorities and restricted areas to be considered. Then there’s a quick chat with the aviation authorities when you arrive to ensure you understand your responsibilities  (i.e. that they are absolved of all responsibility once they’ve taken you through the process, and that you can kiss your arse goodbye if you come unstuck). And, finally, you need to call in and check with the airport control tower to clear your flight/flights beforehand. If they are busy with other aircraft, you’ll just have to wait (yes, no matter how fantastic the light is).

Defy any of these things and your drone license can be revoked, large fines can be imposed and you can be kicked out of the country. If you cause serious injury or damage, you can expect to end up in court or jail.

Overkill?

Well –  reluctant as I am to participate in any bureaucratic process – not really. Obviously, safety needs to be the priority, and there’s plenty of “cowboys” out there so there has to be some rules when it comes to sharing the skies with choppers and planes.

But I think most professional drone photographers accept this.

Equally though, I think it’s beholden on the administrators to ensure their process is as  simple, efficient and quick to complete as it can be or there’s bound to be frustrations and people likely to run the gauntlet and ignore the process altogether.

In Vanuatu, they sensibly concede the process is “evolving” and you’re asked to be patient  (which is always an ominous indication of what to expect I’ve gotta say). However, I’ve flown six times now and the Control Tower has been quick to pick up the phone, and been helpful, understanding we photographers need some flexibility with timing to capture the light. A few minutes after each request, my drone’s been airborne so I’ve got no complaints (though, as I do back home, I’m finding the 120 metre ceiling a bit of a challenge).

My advice: Work with them and start a few weeks before you arrive by contacting www.drone.vu or raps.civav@vanuatu.com.vu. It’s an inconvenience to be sure and you’ll probably want to tear your hair out if you’re as impatient as I am when it comes to applications and all things software. But at least you’ll know you have permission to fly and you won’t have to worry about that tap on the shoulder by someone telling you that what you’re doing is illegal when you’ve gone to the trouble of bringing your gear in and having it survive the journey.

One more point: I’ve not mentioned getting permission to shoot a traditional cultural event with the drone. Much as I’d like to think it could be sorted out with a few shells in the  local nakamal, I suspect the cost and the time involved in getting permission from the associated custodians, landowners and bureaucrats would make it spectacularly prohibitive.