IAATO Restricts Commercial Drone Use by Visitors in Antarctica


Published Jun 11, 2019 8:24 PM by The Maritime Executive

The International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) has announced new restrictions on commercial drone use in Antarctica.

The constraints, voted in at IAATO’s annual meeting in Cape Town, South Africa, (April 30 – May 3), mean that those using drones for commercial purposes on IAATO vessels will have new restrictions limiting piloting opportunities.

The recreational use of drones is already banned in coastal areas of Antarctica, but IAATO members agreed that for the 2019-20 season, commercial drone flights are not allowed in coastal areas without the IAATO operator’s authorization.

Lisa Kelley, Interim Co-Executive Director - Operations and External Relations for IAATO said that the Antarctic Treaty Parties, and IAATO members, are concerned about the use of drones in Antarctica. “While there are situations where flying them may be of value with regards to science, ice reconnaissance for vessel navigation and education, including documentary film making, there are many questions still to be answered in terms of their potential impact on the environment.

“IAATO has worked for 28 years, advocating and promoting safe and environmentally responsible tourism in Antarctica, and our core mission is to offer visitors an enriching and educational expedition, while only having a minor or transitory impact. Drone flights in Antarctica come with risks from lower temperatures making battery life difficult to gauge, to how these devices may be inadvertently affecting wildlife behavior.

“To visit, and operate in, Antarctica comes with a responsibility to do so carefully and with minimal impact. These new restrictions are one of a raft of measures IAATO voted in at its annual meeting in order to deliver our responsible tourism mission.”

Other measures introduced by IAATO during its annual meeting include a unanimous vote to impose mandatory measures to prevent whale strikes in cetacean-rich Antarctic waters, more stringent restrictions on the commercial use of submersibles, robust adjustments to visitor guidelines for activities on the Antarctic peninsula, a new code of conduct for vessel operators, implementing a mandatory observer scheme, support for the development of Marine Protected Areas and approval to expand research into the health of penguin populations at visitor sites.

Through the Antarctic Treaty system, the entire continent is formally designated as a natural reserve, devoted to peace and science. Antarctica is regarded as the last great wilderness on the planet, still pristine with wildlife and landscapes that show little evidence of direct human activity.

In addition to its own bylaws and requirements for membership, IAATO requires its members to abide by the Antarctic Treaty System and other international regulations. All human activities, whether for science or tourism, have to go through an Environmental Impact Assessment by a relevant competent authority.