On 29 August 2016, three regulations were issued by the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MoIA) jointly with the Ministry of Defense (MoD), the Ministry of Transport (MoT) and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), restricting, prohibiting and regulating, respectively, the operation of drones in Venezuela. It was the very first time that the term 'drone' appeared in a local legal instrument, so it marked the 'Big Bang' of the existence of these flying devices in the national legislation.
It was not until 23 December 2016, however, that drones were effectively incorporated into the national aviation legal framework. On that day, thirteen Venezuelan Aviation Regulations ("RAV's") were amended and reissued to regulate their use, registration, classification and operation. The result was a robust and comprehensive body of law not yet seen in other jurisdictions in Latin America, the main points of which are described below.
RAV 45 classifies drones or remotely piloted aircraft (hereafter referred to as RPAs) into four different classes, namely:
Class 1 – Lighter than 3 Kg.
Class 2 – Between 3 and 25 Kgs.
Class 3 – Between 25 and 150 Kgs.
Class 4 – Heavier than 150 Kgs.
Although the regulation applies equally to all classes of RPAs, more flexibility is sometimes granted to the operation of drones under Class 1 and Class 2. Operation of RPAs under Class 3 and Class 4 is more heavily and carefully regulated.
In Venezuela, the use of drones is divided into two main categories: recreational and commercial. Each one is regulated differently.
No authorisation is needed to operate Class 1 or Class 2 RPAs for recreational purposes. However, this is not the case for recreational operation of Class 3 and Class 4 drones, which need a special authorisation from the CAA.
Pilots operating drones for recreational purposes need to be at least 13 years old and must hold a Certificate of Successful Completion of a Course on RPAs from a certified training organisation. They also need to hold a civil liability policy to cover damages caused to third parties as a result of their operation. For the operation of Class 3 or Class 4 RPAs, this insurance policy also needs to be validated before the CAA.
Finally, no licence is required for the recreational operation of Class 1 RPAs. For all other classes, a valid licence is required.
Any operator wishing to operate drones commercially in Venezuela needs to go first through a certification process before the CAA in order to be granted with a drone operator certificated or "ROC" (Remote Aircraft Operator Certificate - the equivalent to the AOC (Aircraft Operator Certificate) used in traditional commercial aviation).
The regulation does not distinguish between foreign or national RPA operators. Therefore, the certification procedure is equally open to both unless the CAA provides otherwise.
Although the regulation provides for a certification period of 30 days for operation of Class 1 and Class 2 RPAs, of 90 days for operation of Class 3 and Class 4 RPAs, experience suggests that these timeframes are quite ambitious as they normally take much longer.
RAV 47, which governs registration of civil aircraft in Venezuela, provides for all RPAs to be registered before the National Aviation Registry ("RAN") before flying in national airspace. However, only those classified as Class 3 or 4 will be granted proper registration marks. All other classes will only receive a Proof of Registration before the RAN.
The Venezuelan registration marks for RPAs are distinguished by an alphanumeric code starting with the Venezuelan nationality mark 'YV', followed by the letter 'R', and ending with a group of three numbers starting from 100. For example, YVR123.
RPAs classified under Class 4 need to obtain from the CAA a Certificate of Airworthiness to fly in national airspace. RPAs under Class 2 and Class 3, however, do not. Instead, they need to obtain a document of Conformity with Airworthy Condition which certifies that the RPA in question can fly safely. Class 1 RPAs, for their part, do not need to obtain any proof of airworthiness but the operator needs to submit to the CAA a Declaration of Safe Operation and Conformity with Original Design in the event the RPA is going to be engaged in commercial operations.
With respect to operational restrictions, all operations must be carried out during daylight hours and under VFR conditions. They must avoid overflying populated areas as well as over private property for the purposes of taking pictures or recording videos without the authorisation of the owner of the property concerned.
RPAs under Class 1 and Class 2 can fly no higher than 400 feet (122Mts) from the point of take-off and must remain within 500Mts and 700Mts, respectively, of visual line of sight (VLOS). These restrictions do not apply to RPAS under Class 3 or Class 4 which will instead be based on performance as per their manufacturer's manual.
Furthermore, no drone can be operated within 5 nautical miles or 9 kilometers from any airport, nor within a perimeter of 1.8 kilometers from: (1) the President of the State; (2) any military or police station; (3) any prison; or (4) any of the oil and mineral-processing companies belonging to the so-called 'strategic industries'.
Notwithstanding the above, it is important to remark that RAV91 enables the CAA to authorise operators to deviate on an exceptional basis from any restriction set forth in the regulation if it is so required by the operation concerned. Therefore, any restrictions can always be lifted by the CAA if there are good grounds for them to do so.
Although the CAA has done a very good job in regulating the use of drones in Venezuela, the operation of these flying machines has been prohibited since the unfortunate event of 04 August 2018 when two drones, loaded with explosives, were exploded by unknown individuals with the purpose of causing damages to Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro during an official event held in Caracas.
Stakeholders of the drone industry, however, have organised themselves and created the Venezuelan Association of RPAs (AVERPAS) -which we are proud to legally advise- in order to work together with the CAA for the lifting of the restriction on a permanent basis. This initiative has produced good results as the CAA has recently authorised certain commercial operations, including a traffic monitoring service carried out by a certified drone operator for the reporting of the traffic in Caracas through one of the biggest radio stations in the country.
Although this service has been provided by the same radio station for over a decade, it involved the use of a helicopter, its risks and the payment of all the costs associated with it. Now, with the incorporation of the new regulations, this traffic reporting service is made from the ground with RPAs at a significantly reduced cost.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.