Contributor: Maria de Lourdes Marengo and Harry Aswani
1. Are UAS considered as “aircraft” in your country?
An RPAS is considered as an aircraft in Panama. The Aeronautical Standard No. AAC/DSA/DG/01-16, which regulates all the aspects and the registration of RPAS in Panama, defines aircraft as a machine that can be sustained in the atmosphere from reactions of the air, and not by the reactions of the same against the earth’s surface.
2. Which bodies regulate the remotely-piloted and/or unmanned aircraft operations in your country, under what basic laws?
The Civil Aviation Authority of Panama (“AAC”) regulates the operations of the RPAS in Panama, under the Aeronautical Standard No. AAC/DSA/DG/01-16 (the “Regulations”).
3. Is there a distinction between “State UAS” and “Private UAS”?
Yes, there is a distinction in the Regulations. The State RPAs are used for state or governmental operations, and the Private RPAs are used for civil or private operations.
4. Is there any distinction between public, leisure and commercial UAS? What regulations are provided for UAS operations in each group?
Yes, there is a distinction between the recreational or leisure RPAS and the commercial ones. The main difference is that all the RPAS operators and members of their crew, who desire to carry out commercial operations in Panama, shall have an Operation Certificate issued by the AAC according to the local aeronautical regulations. This certificate will allow the operator to carry out commercial operations of such RPAS, in accordance with the conditions and limitations established within.
5. Is there a distinction, in terms of regulation, between completely autonomous UAS and remotely-piloted UAS?
Yes, the distinction is made in the definitions’ section of the Regulations. In fact, the regulations mention in Section E, that the same applies to i) all the remote piloted aircraft systems (“RPAS”); (ii) all the RPAS of any weight, that were specifically designed for performing aerial work or cargo transportation; and (iii) all the RPAS’s operators and members of their crew, who desire to carry out commercial operations in Panama.
Regulation of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (“UAS”) Operations - Safety
6. How are UAS operations regulated in terms of safety?
The safety of the RPAS operations in Panama will have the same importance as a manned piloted aircraft. To that end, any investigation of a drone accident or incident must be carried out by the AAC, their units, and other applicable departments.
7. Is the applicable regulation considering the rule of 1 UAS = 1 pilot?
The Regulation considers the RPAS’ pilot as responsible for the safe operation of the RPAS during his flight so we may consider the rule 1 RPA = 1 pilot as the applicable one.
Regulation of Unmanned Aircraft Systems ("UAS") Operations - Licensing
8. What procedures are there to obtain licenses or the rights to operate UAS?
All the RPAs which operate within the Panamanian territory, except the micro RPA, shall be registered at the AAC and need to obtain a registration number.
In sum, the registration process and requirements are as mentioned below:
- The operator or owner of an RPA must fill out a form that can be found at the AAC’s website, and provide documentation accrediting that the RPA is their property;
- In the mentioned form the operator or owner of the RPA must identify the same indicating the brand, model, weight, color, and serial number;
- The RPA must have a nationality and registration number, and if that is not the case, the owner must request the same to the AAC. Once the registration number is assigned, and the RPA is enrolled in the Panamanian registry, the owner must place the nationality marks and registration number in a visible place;
- All the RPA’s owners must request the registration number, except the micro RPAs, which are used for sports and recreation purposes;
- All the owners of an RPA must have and should provide to the AAC a third-party damage insurance since the owner is the sole entity responsible for any damage caused by the drone;
- The operator or owner of the RPA must demonstrate to the AAC that the RPA does not exceed the noise emission levels provided in the local regulations.
It is very important to mention that while all RPA’s operators must have a valid Operation Certificate issued by the AAC, every person who desires to pilot any type of RPA, with the exception of the micro RPA, must obtain an RPA pilot license issued by the AAC and be trained in any matter related with the use of an RPA.
One of the requirements to obtain an RPA pilot license under local regulations is that the applicant has a valid aircraft pilot license or has been in possession of one in the past. The AAC is constantly monitoring all the drone’s operators and pilots to ensure that the quality and compliance with the requirements prescribed in the local regulations are maintained.
9. Are there any kind of taxes or fees regarding the licensing procedure?
The registration of the RPAS cost US$5.00 dollars, except for the micro RPA which is free.
10. Is a Certificate of Airworthiness mandatory to operate a UAS?
Except for the micro RPA, all the other types of RPAS require a certificate of airworthiness to operate in Panama.
11. Is access to the market for the provision of UAS operation services regulated and, if so, how?
Yes, all the RPAS’s operators who desire to carry out commercial operations in Panama must obtain an Operation Certificate issued by the AAC.
12. What requirements apply in the areas of financial strength and nationality of ownership regarding control of UAS?
There are no restrictions regarding nationality or ownership for the operation of a RPAS in Panama.
13. Is drone transport permitted / regulated in your country?
Yes, the transportation of cargo by drones is permitted in Panama, and the same is regulated by the Regulations. However, the transportation of dangerous goods or illicit substances by drones is strictly prohibited.
Regulation of Unmanned Aircraft Systems ("UAS") - Operations - Others
14. Is there a specific Data & Privacy Protection regulation applicable to UAS operations?
The non-consensual photography or video recording of third parties or their property or belongings, interference, annoyance or observation, performed by a drone, which are not for sports or recreational purposes, is prohibited by local regulations.
15. Is there a specific control-link interference regulation applicable to UAS operations?
Yes, Section P of the Regulations contains a reference to the communication and navigation equipment that the RPAs should have and the requirements for the operations of the RPAs within air controlled spaces.
16. Do specific rules regulate UAS manufacturers?
No, there are no specific rules for the manufacturers within Panamanian regulations.
17. What requirements must a foreign UAS operator satisfy in order to operate to or from your country?
Any RPA operator that desires to operate an RPA in Panama commercially must obtain an Operation Certificate from the AAC. Nonetheless, the AAC will recognize as valid, the Operation Certificate of a foreign operator that has been issued by another contracting state of ICAO, under similar requirements to those required by the AAC, or under the base of a reciprocal agreement.
18. Are fares or pricing of UAS operations regulated and, if so, how?
No, fares or pricing of UAS operations are not regulated in Panama.
The Aircraft (“UAS”)
19. Must UAS be registered in any particular register?
The Regulations do not provide a guideline or requirements for the registration of UAS in Panama.
20. Who is entitled to be mentioned in the UAS register?
Please refer to the answer to question #19.
21. Do requirements or limitations apply to the ownership of a UAS listed on your country’s register?
There are none.
22. Do specific rules regulate the maintenance of UAS?
There are no specific rules that regulate the maintenance of UAS.
23. Which are the operational and distance limitations for an aerial work with a UAS? Is there any kind of certificate or permission to operate beyond those limitations?
The operation of any aircraft involving aerial work is regulated by the Book XVII of the Civil Aviation Regulations of Panama (“RACP”). To provide such services, the operator of such RPAS must obtain an Operation Certificate for aerial works with an RPA authorization. The conditions for such operations and all related terms, limitations, etc., will be provided in such Operation Certificate.
24. Are UAS obliged to take off from and/or land in specific facilities?
No, an RPA may operate in airspace which is not restricted or prohibited by local regulations.
25. Which kind of airspaces are UAS permitted to operate with?
The RPA may operate in any airspace as long as the AAC authorizes it.
26. Which airspaces are restricted for UAS?
Airspaces type A, C, D or E are restricted for RAPs and its operators unless they have authorization from the AAC.
27. Which zones are UAS operations banned?
RPAs cannot fly: (i) within a radius of 8 kilometers from any airport in the Panamanian territory; and (ii) over restricted, dangerous or prohibited areas, unless they have a special authorization or permission issued by the AAC, and the permit from the owner or authority in charge of the applicable area.
28. Who provides air traffic control services for UAS in your country?
The Civil Aviation Authority of Panama (AAC).
Liability and Accidents
29. Are there any special rules in respect of loss or damage to cargo?
There are no special rules within the Regulations which apply to the loss or damage to cargo.
30. Are there any special rules about the liability of UAS operators for surface damage?
The Regulations establishes that all the operators and RPA’s pilots of every RPA category, regardless of their use, will be responsible for the damages they may cause to third parties during their operations. Furthermore, as we mentioned above, all the operators that desire to use their RPAs for commercial purposes should obtain, before the beginning of their commercial activities, the Operation Certificate from the AAC, and being one of the requirements for its procurement, the obtaining of a third-party liability insurance policy.
31. Is there a mandatory accident and incident reporting system and, if so, how does it operate?
There is no mandatory accident and incident reporting system required or specified within the Regulations or other rules in respect to RPAS.
32. What system and procedures are in place for the investigation of UAS accidents?
The Regulations establishes that any investigation of a drone accident or incident must be carried out by the AAC, their units, and other applicable departments. However, there is no system or special procedures applicable to RPAS.
33. Are UAS operators obliged to have insurance for their operations? If so, which are their main features?
As we mentioned above, all the operators that wish to use their RPAs for commercial purposes should obtain, before the beginning of their commercial activities, the Operation Certificate from the AAC, and being one of the requirements for its procurement, the obtaining of a third-party liability insurance policy.
34. What is insured? The operator, the business or the aircraft?
The Regulations requires that the operator and the pilot have a third-party liability insurance policy.
Financial Support and State Aid
35. Are there sector-specific rules regulating direct or indirect financial support to companies by the government or government-controlled agencies or companies (state aid) in the UAS sector? If not, do general state aid rules apply?
There are no sector-specific rules related to direct or indirect financial support to such companies in Panama, either from the government or the private sector. Furthermore, there are no general aid rules that apply in such cases.
36. What are the main principles of the stated aid rules applicable to the UAS sector?
Please refer to our answer to question 35.
37. Are there exemptions from the state aid rules or situations in which they do not apply?
There are no applicable general state aid rules that would apply.
38. Must clearance from the competition authorities be obtained before state aid may be granted?
There are no applicable general state aid rules that would apply.