Sun | Jul 23, 2017

JCAA getting more applications for drone use

Published:Sunday | August 14, 2016 | 8:00 AMTameka Gordon

The Jamaica Civil Aviation Authority (JCAA) has seen a steady increase in applications by local businesses for the use of drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

As interest in the technology grows, the JCAA is fielding repeat applications from some 25 entities now compared to just "two or three" a year and a half ago, JCAA's deputy director general for regulatory affairs, Rohan Campbell, told Gleaner Business.

Permits for professional or company operated drones outstrips that or request for personal or recreational use, the JCAA officer said.

Interestingly, the JCAA has also seen interest from tourists travelling to the island, who wish to use drones while vacationing here.

These recreational requests are seldom granted, Campbell said, given that many hotels are located near airports and that the privacy of other guests may be infringed.

On the other hand, drone use in agriculture to monitor theft and plant and soil management is on the rise.

Dr Damian Graham, general of JP Farms, says drones have proven more effective with the spraying of the company's bananas. JP Farms is a member of the Jamaica Producers Group.

The company conducted a pilot project in May to assess the effectiveness of spraying its crops and rated it far more effective than traditional backpack sprayers or mist blowers.

Graham said 10 per cent or 40 acres of the St Mary-based farm was used in the pilot with the company reducing its spray-cycle time from six days to one.

"It is more effective," he said, noting that the drones provided 100 per cent coverage compared to the mist blower or backpack sprayer "which gives anywhere from 60-80 per cent coverage."

JP is now in the process of expanding to full commercial use of drones across its farm, Graham said.

Globally, drones have been tapped for wildlife conservation efforts, search-and-rescue operations, security surveillance, and even mail delivery.

Local companies have tapped them for land surveying and aerial videography and photography. They may also be used to provide accurate maps of fields providing vital information for quick response, better yields and operational efficiency, CEO and founder of JamaicaUAV Limited, Christopher Haddad, told Gleaner Business.

"Combine the UAV with the real-time communication of the Internet and the computing power of a central processor, and this technology ecosystem is simply a global game-changer," Haddad said.

Companies that offer drone services are required to obtain a permit from the JCAA each time they wish to launch the drone, Campbell said.

Companies may also request certification, which allows more expansive use.

However, even with certification, for each new area that the company will offer the service, clearance must be sought from the regulator. The civil aviation agency would then amend the certification, if the applicant is successful.

All operators must fly their devices no higher than 400 feet above ground level and report all accidents involving their equipment to the JCAA. Professional operators are also mandated to take out public liability coverage of no less than US$100,000, Campbell said.

"The JCAA has generally seen voluntary adherence to the published operational guidance for unmanned aerial vehicles in Jamaica," Campbell said.

He said professional operators, for the most part, interface with the JCAA for permission to operate, but some recreational operators have, at times, been reported to operate outside of the established limits."

These reports are investigated by the JCAA's Flight Safety Division inspectors and sometimes the Jamaica Constabulary Force, Campbell said.

tameka.gordon@gleanerjm.com