BLANTYRE, MALAWI - The government of Malawi has drafted new regulations on the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, also known as drones. Authorities say the move helps protect people's security and privacy, but some drone operators are against the proposed changes.
The regulations would require drone operators to get authorization from the Department of Civil Aviation before flying their gadgets and have an adequate insurance policy. Those flouting the regulations would pay a fine of about $1,500 or be jailed for up to six months or both.
Drone users say the proposed rules are too restrictive.
Seeking government authorization whenever one wants to fly a drone is not practical, said Ezaus Mkandawire, president of Film Makers Association of Malawi.
"For example, if there was a demonstration, I don't think one can rush to make an application to have your drone flying. I don't think that works," he said. "There are certain circumstances where you need to make a recording all of a sudden."
Freelance video journalist and drone owner Eldson Chagara opposes a rule that would ban operators from flying a drone within 30 meters of any person.
"There are times when you [want to] fly as low as you can, depending on what you want to shoot, because most drones we have in Malawi have got cameras," he said.
Malawi has recently seen a boom in the use of civilian drones, mainly to spice up aerial photography and videography for weddings and music videos.
Alfred Mtilatila, the director of the civil aviation department, says the regulations are aimed at bringing sanity into the airspace.
"The reason why we want to regulate the operations of the drones is to make sure that people are flying responsibly, knowing what to do and what not to do," he said.
Mtilatila says some rules have been adapted from civil aviation departments around the world.
"We physically went to South Africa. They actually told us how they have done it, and also, we underwent [a] regulatory course on how they do it in America. So, we are learning from most all the globe," he said.
Mtilatila says his department is soliciting input from the public before the regulations are submitted to the Ministry of Justice for approval.