Small hovering objects are becoming more and more common over Cayman’s beaches…but these flying objects are of the identifiable variety.
Drone use is on the up. The FAA predicts the small model hobbyist ‘unmanned aircraft systems’ fleet will more than double from an estimated 1.1 million vehicles in 2017 to 2.4 million by 2022, and as demand has increased so has the technology. Most ‘hobbyist’ drones now have 4Kcameras, easily fold up for transportation, and feature extraordinarily steady video stabilization.
Whether you are an amateur drone operator, controller or pilot, or an expert, there is a drone for you, with a plethora of uses (and restrictions).
What you can do with drones
Photos and video
The most obvious use of drones is to take photos and video. These small devices can take amazing imagery of landscapes, events and objects from unique angles. If your drone can be programmed to follow you, you can capture yourself surfing, skateboarding, cycling or driving your boat through crystal clear waters. Even if you’re not into extreme sports, drones can still up your photography game. Drone selfies are becoming increasingly popular, allowing you to take selfies from further away and from different perspectives, no longer dependent on the person with longest arms in your group of friends.
Drone racing is a real thing, and a quick search on YouTube will bring up endless results, with drones whizzing through forests, along beaches and indoor tracks. ESPN even features races from the Drone Racing League.
Special racing drones are available to buy, which are purpose built to compete in FPV (first person view) racing events, such as the Blade Inductric FPV, Eachine Wizard X220 or the Vortex 250 PRO. Expert racers may even custom build their drones, known as modding.
We’re not aware of any official leagues for drone racing in Cayman, but as the number of drone enthusiasts increase on-island, it is sure to become a possibility.
Search and rescue
Drones have quickly become an essential tool in many emergency services, reducing search times due to their fast deployment, offering thermal imaging in search and rescue, allowing visuals to be relayed to ground teams and the command unit on large monitors, and some drones can even drop lifesaving tools such as lifejackets or communication devices to those in need.
There is no capability for amateur drone enthusiasts to join a search and rescue team here, but the police have been using them, specifically the DJI Mavic Pro model, for years. They have just invested in a commercial standard drone, DJI Matrice 210 model, regulated under the authority of the Air Operations Unit. The drones help secure evidence at crime scenes and assist in remote searches and produce professional photographs.
Check out your property
If you want to see if there is a leak in your roof, if the gutter is clogged, if your child’s favorite ball is stuck on top of that tall palm tree, or you need to get photos for insurance purposes, a drone could be your best friend, allowing images to be captured from angles that are otherwise difficult or impossible to get to.
Drones are not always used for good. Use has been seen by terrorist groups for surveillance or to carry explosives, and when it comes to innocent hobbyist use, FAA research warns of the risks of drone collisions with planes, with near misses occurring in other countries.
It is unsurprising that countries have begun to take steps to impose safety regulations as drone usage amongst hobbyists and professionals increases. Some, such as Switzerland, have made steps to integrate the drones into normal air traffic, and most have regulations about where drones can fly.
The Air Navigation (Overseas Territories) Order, defines a small unmanned aircraft as “any unmanned aircraft, other than a balloon or kite, having a mass of not more than 20kg without its fuel but including any articles or equipment installed in or attached to the aircraft at the commencement of its flight.” The Civil Aviation Authority of the Cayman Islands has restrictions prohibiting users of small unmanned aircraft from flying the vehicles near airports and the prison.
Drone operators are not permitted to fly within a 3-nautical-mile zone from the perimeter of airports in the Cayman Islands unless they receive special permission from the director of Civil Aviation and the consent of air traffic control, which around 10 licensed operators in Cayman have. The Grand Cayman buffer zone extends up to the Great House on Seven Mile Beach, and out to Countryside in Savannah. There is also a buffer zone of one nautical mile around the prison.
For the commercial operation of an SUA/SUSA, an Aerial Work Permission is required, issued by the CAACI under delegation by the Governor.