My Thoughts on Technology and Jamaica: How JCAA and GOJ can foster Drone Design for Jamaican High Schools and Universities

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

How JCAA and GOJ can foster Drone Design for Jamaican High Schools and Universities

UAS (Unmanned Aerial Systems) or Drones as they're more commonly being called, are soon set to become a part of the Jamaican aviation landscape.

The potential exists for so many applications that entrepreneurs are already jumping on this bandwagon as noted in my blog article entitled “Why 10000 firms registered in 2015 at Companies Office of Jamaica heralds Recession in 2016”.

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Already, the JCAA (Jamaica Civil Aviation Authority) has receiving some twenty five (25) or more applications for the use of drones in Jamaica as noted in the article “JCAA Getting More Applications For Drone Use”, Published Sunday August 14, 2016 by Tameka Gordon, The Jamaica Gleaner.

The application of drones is mainly in the following area:

1.      Land surveying
2.      Aerial videography
3.      Photography
4.      Agriculture

The majority of these entities are mainly companies seeking to use drones for monitoring their property to pesticide spraying such as Agrocaelum and Hi-Pro use of drones to spray crops as noted in my blog article entitled “Why Agrocaelum and Hi-Pro Herald for JCAA allowing Drone Racing in Jamaica”.

Even JP Tropical Foods Limited, manufacturers of the popular St. Mary’s Banana Chips, is looking into the use of drones to combat pradeial larceny on their banana plantations as  reported in the article “JP Tropical Foods Looking to Use Drones to Combat Farm Theft”, published August 18, 2016 By Shelly-Ann Irving, The Jamaica Information Service.

Tourists are also taking an interest in using their drones have in Jamaica while on vacation. So does this mean that more open regulations are coming from the JCAA?

JCAA and drones - Special Aerial Work Permit unenforced indicated GOJ doesn't take it seriously

Apparently not.

Theses recreation permits are rarely granted, as hotel are too close to airports to trust tourists to obey the law. For each use of a drone in a new area, a permit is required as noted in my blog article entitled “Why JCAA Special Aerial Work Permit needs to be adjusted to promote Professional Drone Racing”.

These permits are rather restrictive; no higher than 400m above the ground and all operators have to have liability coverage in excess of JA$100000. Also drone professionals have to report all incidents and accident to the JCAA.

These permits are required for each area, as there is yet to be a fixed licensing arrangement with established drone operators, albeit companies and interested individuals can request certification to operate their drones.

Still, the policing of drone regulations are still being taken lightly by the JCAA and the JCF (Jamaica Constabulary Force) aka the Jamaican Police. There is no dedicated staff to ensure compliance other than JCAA's Flight Safety Division inspectors and the occasional report by the Police; it’s mostly voluntary, suggesting that they see drones as toys of the wealthy as opposed to a potential tool for Industry.

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Clearly the Government of Jamaica doesn’t take the use of drones seriously, despite renewed interest in tackling praedial larceny as noted in the article “Agriculture Ministry Introduces Drones to Farmers”, published August 18, 2016 By Garwin Davis, The Jamaica Information Service.

After all, if they're serious about using drones in Jamaica, why has there been no relaxation in Drone regulations to develope a local drone Developer and Design Industry?

FAA relaxes drone Regulations - JCAA Drone Design competition needed for high school and university students

However, since June 2016, the US Government FAA (Federal Aviation Authority) recently created a 55kg class that requires no certification to fly as reported in the article “US Clears Small, Commercial Drones For Take-Off”, Published Wednesday June 22, 2016, The Jamaica Gleaner, but the height restriction remain.

Earlier in May 2016, the FAA had also allowed students in high school and universities in the US of A to experiment with drones as noted in the article “Students are gaining the upper hand over their teachers when it comes to drones”, published May 5, 2016 By Lulu Chang, Digitaltrends.

Oddly, teachers are restricted from using drones in an educational setting. Drones would make a great way to teach aviation and robotics in Jamaican schools and their introduction to student via a competition could fuel the developement of a Drone Design Industry in Jamaica.

We already have a fledgling Flying High Radio Control Club that has been around for some forty (40) years as noted in the article “40 Years Of High Flying Models”, published Sunday January 25, 2015, The Jamaica Gleaner.

It would be great for the Government to Jamaica to sponsor a Drone Developer and Design Competition to foster a love for Electronics, mechanical and Aviation Engineering in Jamaica, starting with high school and university students!

Making drones accessible to students to study, deconstruct and then design their own drones from components that they could purchase online would help jump-start a fledgling Jamaica Drone Developer and Design Industry in Jamaica.

Hopefully, as time goes by, our JCAA will relax drone regulations in a similar manner, eventually leading to drone racing in Jamaica.

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