Last October, Ridley Scott and more than a thousand extras and film crew arrived in Andalusia, in southern Spain, to shoot Exodus, his new epic about the life of Moses starring Christian Bale. “They spent a whole month here”, Piluca Querol, the director of the Andalusia Film Commission, told Quartz: “It’s the first time unemployment has gone down in Almería at that time of year, thanks to all of the construction.”The movie industry is an important contributor to the economy in Andalusia, the region with the highest unemployment rate in all of Europe (pdf). “Film producers use drones a lot,” Querol said, “especially in pre-production to get things ready, prepare shots and look for possible camera positions.” She added, “of course [drone images] promote Spain abroad, in our case as a great place to film movies”.
So Querol was shocked earlier this month to read of a ban on commercial drone activity published by Spain’s State Agency For Air Safety (AESA): “We are very worried by the news”, she said. “We understand it as a total ban”.
Issued on April 7, the note ‘”reminds” Spaniards, “in order to avoid misunderstandings”, that: “The use of aircraft piloted by remote control with commercial or professional ends is not permitted, and never has been”, and that commercial drone use over Spain is, “illegal and subject to the imposition of the corresponding sanctions”.
AESA told Quartz that “AESA has not prohibited the use of ‘drones’; the Air Safety Act currently does not allow them to be used for certain activities, once drones [are classified] as aircraft.” It said that the drone industry “knew about the situation beforehand.”
“Nonsense”, said Agustín Rivera, the reporter who broke the story at Spanish news site El Confidencial (link in Spanish): “it’s true the legislation existed before but they had never been so blunt about it (…) there was bewilderment in the industry”. Violeta Vargas, who edits a blog on the Spanish drone sector, and is an R&D project manager for a Spanish company that designs and builds larger drones, agreed: “Of course it was news, huge news, people didn’t know it was illegal, they thought there was a kind of gap in the law”.
A cloudy legality
Drone laws vary widely around the world, including within Europe itself, though the European Commission this month announced it would develop continent-wide rules. Regulators that try to restrict or ban drone use can find themselves struggling to control an exploding market, as has happened to the Federal Aviation Administration in the US.
Spain’s rules are rooted in the 1960 Air Navigation Act (Spanish). As one might expect of a piece of legislation written decades before drones were even imagined, it’s ambiguous—for instance, it defines an aircraft as any flying object “suited to the transportation of people or objects,” which commercial drones often aren’t.
But commercial drone operators contacted by Quartz said they understood the AESA ruling as a total ban, and that they had already lost orders. Cromática 45, whose aerial video of Madrid has been seen over 4 million times according to a spokesman, shot it with a small DJI Phantom drone, which Spaniards can acquire for a few hundred euros in El Corte Inglés, Spain’s leading retail store. It’s “a total ban,” a company spokesman said.
Another company, Helifilm, last year produced a whole series of programs for TVE 1, Spain’s main public TV channel, titled “Spain From The Sky Up“, full of drone footage shot above crowds running around Spain’s famous fiestas. “We also used drones to film scenes for Ocho Apellidos Vascos“, said Ramón Canton, Helifilm’s manager, referring to a recent Spanish box office hit (titled A Spanish Affair in English) that includes spectacular landscape shots of the Spanish countryside. Canton described AESA’s ruling as “a total halt until further notice.”
Even Spain’s regional governments are using drones. In April, the Andalusian government ran an emergency exercise for its first responders in a road tunnel (Spanish), and commissioned a local company, Camfly, to film a simulated accident using a drone.
Cromática 45 says it has had four orders cancelled since last week; Camfly has seen 15 orders disappear, “all the work until October;” and the Andalusia Film Commission has even had to stop a project for the Andalusian regional government. “Today the answer [to clients] is that it’s not possible. We’ll see about tomorrow,” says Querol.
AESA refused to say how many production companies or media outlets are being sanctioned for filming and publishing drone images. It said the new legislation is “complex, given it has to take into account technology that is still being developed.” Alberto Castaño, chairman of a commercial drone operators’ association that has started some talks with AESA, told Quartz, “They hope to have the draft bill ready before the summer, but then administratively in reality it’s not really going to be ready until next year; their own legal advisors have told them that getting the new bill officially published as law will take ‘at least a year’”.
Not quick enough, say the drone companies. “We couldn’t last more than a month without filming”, said Canton, the manager of Helifilm: “it would be impossible, we live off this activity, my partner even mortgaged his house to invest in the business”. For now, said the Cromática 45 spokesman, “we are going to continue working in areas of minimum risk.”
Matthew Bennett is a journalist based in Murcia, Spain, and editor of the Spain Report. He tweets at @matthewbennett.
In this video lots ov cityzens are exposed to the risk of being hit by a falling mass from lets say 100m. This stuff needs to be regulated by oblying users to have an insurance, resque system such as a parachute etc. I dont see why anyone willing to do an urban video has the right to put peoples lives in danger.
Done, please use civility.
as moderator, you must stop people like Mr. Butler. He´s seriously damaging this web site and the comunity.
@afernan I could not say it better than you!! Regards from Spain!
@David, I was referring to high level of unemployment which I believe the future UAV commercial potential could contribute to reduce...
The ban comes at no surprise after the popularity of cromatica45 video which has probably made many people uneasy in defense and security organizations in the Spanish government. The video is very beautiful but has done a poor service to all the companies that are trying to develop the UAV industry in Spain.
In a later article in El Confidencial, a director of the aeronautics division of one of the big consulting companies in Spain says that they are working with the Spanish Aerial Security Agency to develop the laws, and goes further and states that he would have banned even the use of recreational UAV's. Interestingly if you go to this company web page you find that they are working to offer pilot and UAV certification services. Big companies with good connections in the Government seem to be buying time to get things organized before small startups get to the market.
The risk now is, as you can imagine, over-regulation, laws to control up to the smallest toy you could buy in Hobby King, and taxes, taxes, taxes...
@Hugues, it's the same in the US so I don't know of what socialist mentality are you talking about. All countries began legislating on UAVs not long ago, but until the legislation is ready, most of them are banning commercial use.
If we see a civil uprising here in Spain right now, it will not be because "socialist" policies about UAVs.
Gracious, I live 5 minutes from the Spanish border!
@Thomas, playing to rewrite history or you forgot once again to take your meds?. Anyway, if that's your whim, don't hesitate to tell all of us which one is your company, so we can make your job easier.
Back to the post, the context of use for drones is being discussed. Here and in all countries. We'll see what comes. The thing going for long, and will be complicated: in addition to Spanish legislation, we have to wait to the European one. Good article Chris, thanks for sharing.