Guidelines for Drone Use in Antarctica Underway

Penguins in Antarctica

Published Dec 23, 2014 7:19 PM by The Maritime Executive

The International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) has been requested to present draft unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV or drone) guidelines at the next annual Antarctic Treaty Consultancy Meeting (ATCM) in Bulgaria in June 2015.

 Both Antarctic Treaty Parties and IAATO members are concerned about UAVs in Antarctica, as flying these devices is a relatively new activity. While there are situations when UAVs might be useful, for science or ice reconnaissance for example, there are many questions still be answered about their use in terms of meeting IAATO’s agreement that all their activities must be safe and environmentally responsible.  

Within the Antarctic Treaty System, the unique global partnership that designates the entire continent as a natural reserve, all human activities, whether for science or tourism, have to go through an annual environmental impact assessment by a relevant competent authority or government agency. Planned activities that meet all relevant safety and environmental criteria are authorized and a permit granted. Using a UAV is considered a specific activity so has to be included in overall permit applications for assessment.

 IAATO Executive Director, Dr. Kim Crosbie said, “Antarctica is still pristine with wildlife and landscapes that show little evidence of impact from direct human activity. To visit and operate in an environment like this comes with a responsibility to do so carefully and with minimal disturbance. 

“The use of UAVs is in a state of development and, until more information is available, IAATO member operators and competent authorities are taking a precautionary approach when it comes to their operation. The idea is to devise a pragmatic policy framework that will allow safe and environmentally responsible use under controlled circumstances.”

Meanwhile, IAATO is cautioning all potential travelers to Antarctica, who are hoping to fly a drone, to check with their travel agent or tour operator before packing their device.  

Opportunities may be limited until more is known about their safe and environmentally responsible use in this last great wilderness – particularly in the wildlife rich coastal regions of Antarctica. Tour operators will either prohibit the use of UAVs altogether or only allow them to be operated under strictly defined conditions.