Local drone owners are growing increasingly restless with continuous extensions to a “temporary” ban on the importation of the aircraft. They believe this is preventing them from cashing in on the global billion dollar industry and undertaking projects in the national interest.
Stakeholders are also questioning why authorities appear more lenient with non-national importers of drones.
The ban was extended for the sixth time this weekend, as private drone users mobilized themselves to assist with the search for 16-year-old fisherman, Amali Mayers.
President of the Barbados Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Association (BUAVA) Charles Pile told Barbados TODAY that drone technology could provide innovative progress for national security and law enforcement replacing helicopters, which are no longer being used.
But he argued that innovation in arts, energy and a myriad of other industries continues to be stifled by the restrictions, which were first imposed under the Freundel Stuart administration in March 2016.
Since then, the association has been unable to engage in fruitful discussions with the current Government or the aviation authority on the passing of draft legislation which would ease the current limitations.
“It is becoming frustrating and it seems to be something continuously being put on the back burner after several years and it is really depressing the industry and frustrating the operators. So we can only hope for the best going forward,” Pile noted.
The association was called in to provide air coverage to identify any areas where young Amali may have been floating as professional divers and coast guard personnel searched the choppy east coast waters.
“This is the most recent unfortunate event to occur, but there were previous accidents where drones were used to help locate missing persons. In terms of search and rescue, it is a really valuable asset,” added the president, as he expressed sympathy at the tragic outcome of this weekend’s search.
In a recent address, Prime Minister Mia Mottley indicated that drone technology would soon be used to assist with the fight against praedial larceny as the Government attempts to boost food security in the face of COVID-19.
But BUAVA appears to be a step ahead, having assembled a rapid response unit of drone users who are ready and willing to assist with any security or safety issues that may arise.
“Certainly it is an eye in the sky to identify illegal activity and obviously you must have a response unit to go to the location identified by the drone so the perpetrators could be apprehended.
“But at the same time, they have been used at Crop Over both from a security and photography standpoint. They have been used in other security-type organisations and they are a really valuable asset to any security activity going on.
Vice President and acting Public Relations Officer Phil Archer, during a video released by BUAVA on Wednesday, also described Government’s extended ban as puzzling and criticised current restrictions for being biased towards non-Barbadians.
“Barbadian companies are finding themselves unable to complement and improve their businesses and services with the legitimate use and/or upgrading of drones. However, individuals and companies outside of Barbados have been given the opportunity to apply for exemptions to temporarily import drones into Barbados and then leave with their drones and money earned from their work.
“We are a country of limited resources and in our opinion it makes more sense to allow our residents to access technology of this nature first with which we can help our own,” Archer lobbied.
In fact, secretary of the organisation, Ezra Hinds, indicated that Barbadian drone users were making tremendous amounts of money in other countries with more lenient regulations.
[The extension] felt like a slap in the face and I keep using the word disappointing. It was very disappointing that we were undertaking this effort and persons either noticed it and saw otherwise or it was just coincidental. These things hinder the movement and progression of drones in Barbados.