San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Local businesses swat at new regulations, fees for drones

When Matt Damon vacationed in Costa Rica last July, a selfie from a drone-mounted camera appeared on the Facebook page of “The Martian” on the beach in Santa Teresa. But after the Civil Aviation Authority announced its new regulations for unmanned aerial vehicles in Costa Rica, some businesses that use drones here are worried that only a visiting Hollywood star will have the money for their services.

The Civil Aviation Authority announced that it would start regulating unmanned aerial vehicles here by the end of the year. The new rules might have trouble getting off the ground though, including one provision that would require businesses to pay more than $1,800 to use them here.

The rules extended to drones are based on those for model airplanes that were released on May 8. The directive bans flying:

  • Within 8 kilometers of an airport
  • Higher than 400 feet
  • Any UAV that weighs more than 25 kg
  • Out of eyesight of the operator
  • In restricted airspace, including protected land, Casa Presidencial, penitentiaries
  • In a way that violates someone’s privacy

Drawing a parallel with legal requirements for driving a car, the Civil Aviation Authority said that both private citizens and business would need:

  • A $94 UAV license obtained after completing 40 hours of training, including 10 hours of flight time, at a flight school, UAV vendor or fabricator accredited by the Civil Aviation Authority.
  • To request permission to fly via the Civil Aviation Authority website (, in Spanish). Permission would be granted based on a risk assessment of the area and the number of people present.
  • A plate identifying the aircraft.
  • Insurance.

Any business that uses a drone for commercial purposes would need to pay an additional $1,874.02 certification fee. The fee would have to be paid once per individual or business. There is no limit for the number of drones that can be operated under the certification. The certification fee is hefty considering that drones can be bought for less than $100.

That nearly $2,000 fee has some businesses that use drones concerned that these regulations will drive up their costs. Andres Echeverría, one of the founders of The Drone Xperience — the Costa Rican-Mexican company that accompanied Matt Damon at the beach last July — said the fees are exorbitant.

“I don’t know if they think this is a multi-million dollar business, but these regulations are driving up our costs and they’re not viable for us or our clients,” Echeverría said. “We’ll have to raise our prices ridiculously high and unnecessarily.”

Echeverría’s company focuses on aerial photography and video for architectural clients and entertainment events, but he said that many companies use drones to supplement their core business. He said that he is consulting lawyers to challenge the regulations. Echeverría said he agreed that UAVs should be regulated, but he opposes the directive. “This is going to kill the market,” he said.

Firefighters, police, and scientific research are among the categories exempt from the certification fee.

Even if the rules as they are written go into effect, enforcement will be a challenge for the government. Federico Chavarría of the Civil Aviation Technical Commission said that the Civil Aviation Authority does not have the resources to actively police drone use in Costa Rica. He mentioned the possibility of a radar system that could track drones but authorities would depend on the public to report unauthorized UAVs.

Chavarría said the rules could be changed going forward.

“This is a totally new area for us,” he told reporters during a news conference on Thursday.

Costa Rica’s rules follow other regulations in Guatemala, Chile and Argentina, among other Latin American countries. The Federal Aviation Administration is mulling over UAV regulations for the United States.

Contact Zach Dyer at

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If you fly one near my home the drone is coming down. Slingshot works well.

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Unless your desire is to lift a full size Super HD Video Camera or a Case of Beer in the air, their appears to be a work around.

“The rules extended to drones are based on those for model airplanes that were released on May 8. The directive bans flying:

Any UAV that weighs more than 25 kg”

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The government should focus on their sins for selling their souls to the Chinese for fishing rights in CR waters (for some POS outdated stadium) that are destroying the eco system and all of the marine wildlife. Or, they should apologize to the world for the 12 tons of CO2 per hour that the GEO Thermal 1 power generation facility is pushing into the atmosphere. How green is CR? No very……

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The recent apparent privet plane and drone collision is hog wash.

I’m a very active drone pilot and have been for several years. I live here in Costa Rica and have over 500 flight hours recorded.

First, I would love to see the evidence of the collision because hitting a drone with a small airplane is like hitting a fly with a bullet at a distance of 1000 meters while the pilot of the drone was traveling in a car blind folded at 100 miles per hour. I would pay to see the evidence.

Secondly, what altitude was the plane flying at? Since there are civil aviation min altitude requirements for fixed wing aircraft in all 1st, 2nd and 3rd world countries, it is clear to me that this amateur / student pilot was not flying at a safe min altitude.

Those of us responsible drone pilots clearly understand the issues associated with irresponsibility. The units I fly have safety integrated in regards to altitude and proximity to an airport. It is a proper way of handling the safety while flying. The laws should restrict flying in city limits/populated areas, make anyone that has a drone register it and demonstrate they know how to fly properly not some 40 HR training course that doesn’t exist. There isn’t a person in this country that has more flying time than I do and I will find it hard for a trainer to teach me safe flying practices. Just isn’t going to happen.

In stead of making us have insurance to fly our drones the CR government should make it mandatory for drivers to have car insurance or they lose their driving privileges, period. In six years of living here, my 50K Audi has been hit by 3 uninsured motorists and all they got was nothing, I had to pay for their damages to my car. Where is the justice in that.

I’m on a quest to aerial video every top beach in CR with my family. We are assembling a awesome presentation to be posted on You Tube showing the real beauty of CR and personally I think the CR government should thank us for the free promotion.

If a drone pilot is flying over city limits, near an airport or intruding upon someone’s privacy they should get in trouble. However, knee jerk reactions and excessive government intrusion into the rights of people is not welcome.

The new drones I fly restrict the use in close proximity to airports and have an altitude restriction. They also log every minute of flight path and flight data in regards to GPS positioning and altitude.

I think the governments time and effort should be spent by teaching all of the transit cops how to do their jobs and start ticketing all of the unsafe drivers and in the end get them off of the road…

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Scott Hawes

This is just wrong! So many of us are responsible and never do anything that would be an issue. Go after the bad apples! Next thing they will want me to take a 40 hour class to rent a car because there are jerks out there that drink and drive etc…Common sense needs to prevail!

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Ken Morris

I’m afraid that drones are a massive problem in the making, that this policy proposal won’t address the problem, and that the only policy that will is one requiring licensing while sharply restricting the number of drones allowed to operate in a given area at a given time–and in more cases than the proposal includes, disallowing them altogether.

I get it that drones won’t usually invade people’s privacy, hurt anyone, or even annoy anybody. But this is only the usual situation. Surely some people, beginning with private investigators and extending through burglars casing their targets, extortionists, and human traffickers monitoring their slaves, will use drones to invade people’s privacy. Others, including drug kingpins and anyone affluent and angry enough to want to kill a rival, will use them for assassinations. Indeed, hit men may abandon their 9 mm. pistols in favor drones. Then there will be the kids and the usual technology screw ups. My computers still crash occasionally. Can anyone guarantee me that drones won’t?

Meanwhile, how the heck is can a sky full of thousands of drones be adequately policed? Already the traffic cops can’t adequately police known roads. How are drone cops supposed to be able to police the skies?

The reality is that a lot of drones will create a lot of problems, and simply issuing regulations while charging high fees won’t solve these problems. Indeed, as Willy Cordero predicts, the stiffer the regulations and the higher the fees, the more people will operate their drones illegally. When this happens, drone regulation in Costa Rica will become about like gun regulation–a great idea in theory, but in practice just encouragement to people to flout the regulations.

The only solution that I can envision is, yes, to require drones to be licensed, but also strictly limiting the number of drones that can operate simultaneously in the same area. The goal of this strategy is to keep the number of drones overhead down to a low enough number for law enforcement to be able to conceivably track any given drone and verify that it is being operated as authorized. The alternative of having a sky full of drones is unacceptable, regardless of the supposed licensing requirements or fees.

Strictly limiting the number of drones doesn’t necessarily mean that there would be few licenses available. Drone operators could be acquire a basic license and then buy time at the location where they want to operate their drones at prices based upon demand. Businesses that expect to operate drones in a high demand location routinely would therefore pay a lot for that privilege, while anyone in a business like aerial photography would only need to pay a little bit for the small amount of time required for a photo shoot at the desired location. Meanwhile, amateurs who only want to operate their drones in rural areas or possibly even parks, might be able to buy that time for only a token payment (although they probably should still have to buy it, since only a central database would know for sure that another drone operator hadn’t already purchased that space at that time).

While all this may sound complex, it may not have to be in practice. A computer system can be put in place in which a drone operator only enters GPS coordinates and the times requested, with the computer calculating the fee that can be paid online with a credit or debit card.

But the alternative to this kind of modest complexity is the anarchy of a sky full of drones no one has any control over–and this anarchy can be dangerous.

Besides this, I’m pretty sure that a lot more areas ought to be declared drone-free than are in this current proposal. CAPTMARKHD may be right that drones above public beaches are no real threat to privacy, but then again if the drones merely annoy or concern people, the question arises of why they should be permitted. Cars cruising slowly along the beach probably aren’t a threat either, but this doesn’t mean that beach goers should have to tolerate them. I think the burden is on the drone operator to demonstrate why they should have the right to annoy and concern others rather than on the public to demonstrate why they are annoyed and concerned.

The same goes for private property. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want somebody’s drone hovering above my front door snapping cell phone quality pictures. Granted, a live person can stand across the street with a camera and snap photos, but at least I would be able to approach the person and take a picture of him or her too. If it’s a hovering drone, my recourse may only be a slingshot, as MJ says, but if the regulations aren’t written to give me the right to use my slingshot against the drone, I would imagine that I could go to jail for slinging pebbles at it. Then, suppose I hit it and it crashes, killing a baby. Will I be guilty of murder too?

I just don’t see why the public should be expected to tolerate drones, unless they are strictly regulated and identifiable by authorities.

Oh, and how much should the license fee be? As stated, the license fee itself should probably be fairly cheap, but then the usages fees should range from very little to a lot. How much really depends upon how much it costs the public to regulate these things. I don’t favor the government making a profit off of regulating drones, but I don’t favor it subsidizing them either.

Mostly, drones really do have to be regulated, but I think in a far more nuanced way than this current policy proposes.

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Mr. Morris, The government should focus on their sins for selling their souls to the Chinese for the fishing rights they were granted in CR waters (for some POS outdated stadium) that is destroying the eco system and all of the marine wildlife. Or, they should apologize to the world for the 12 tons of CO2 per hour that the GEO Thermal 1 power generation facility is pushing into the atmosphere. How green is CR? Not very.. They should also fire all of their transit cops for being a complete waste of oxygen. This country needs to focus on the issues at hand and not create new diversions from the core issues of what it means to be a properly run country…

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Hector Gonzalez

Just take a look at the photography in the promotional video “Agua, arena y paz” included in the article. Don´t think this is bad quality imaging, so yes, privacy is at stake.
But, picture you are relaxing on the beach at, say, Malpaís, enjoying the sand, the water, and the quiet. Then, a damned drone buzzing over you. Peace is gone.
All of this so that someone can make a profit out of the PUBLIC space.
On a larger scale, have you seen the “flocks” of ultralights flying low over Corcovado National Park?

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A couple weeks ago somebody was flying a camera-equipped drone a few feet over Jaco beach. I looked around but couldn’t see the operator anywhere on the beach or the buildings behind the beach. Great devices for hi-tech peeping toms. They no longer need line-of-sight binoculars or telescopes to peer at people who can look back at them. They no longer have to climb a tree to peep into people’s backyards or windows. These drones can be fun and useful to businesses. But I agree with the need to regulate their invasion of other people’s privacy.

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This is ridiculous!!!! Both for Costa Rica making yet another stupid law and another stupid tax. But equally as ridiculous are the people crying about privacy! These drones are toys not high tech military/CIA drones that can read a license plate from 5,000 feet. The camera on your cell phone is better than the drone cameras there’s no way from 100ft away can you recognize someone’s face. Anyone at a public beach has no privacy that’s why it’s public. Get educated people and get a grip!

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Willy Cordero

these aviation authorities really know how to promote illegality. With these unreal regulation they are telling people to go into the dark side and not even consider registration

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