CAAP Issues Memorandum On Use of Drones

The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) recently issued Memorandum Circular No. 21 series of 2014 dated June 26, 2014, which, among others, seeks to regulate the use of drones in the country. This new issuance startled several drones enthusiasts due to the strict requirements imposed by the subject Memorandum.

Drones or Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) is defined in this Memorandum as an unmanned aircraft, other than a balloon or a kite. Drones are classified into three categories under the Memorandum. First is the, micro UAV, which is defined as a UAV with gross weight of 100 grams or less, second is a large UAV, defined, among others, as an unmanned airship with an envelope capacity greater than 100 cubic meters; and finally small UAV, which is defined as a UAV, which is neither a micro nor a large UAV.

The rules issued by CAAP currently covers only the operation of large UAV and operation of a small UAV for purposes other than sport or recreation. Considering that most of the drones, used by photographers and sports enthusiasts, such as a DJI Phantom, which weighs 9 pounds or about 4,000 grams and Parrot AR Drone 2 Quadricopter, which weighs 4 pounds or about 1,800 grams are considered as small UAVs, thus they are covered by the rigid requirements of this Memorandum.

Strictly speaking, this Memorandum regulates the use of drones for aerial work which is defined as an aerial operation in which an aircraft is used for specialized services such as agriculture, construction, photography, surveying, observation and patrol, search and rescue and aerial advertisement among others. Thus, all other forms of operations not covered by the definition are not covered by the Memorandum.

It is interesting to note that this Memorandum is explicit in stating that it does not cover the use of small drones for sport or recreation. Moreover, the rules are silent with regard to the use of micro drones. Although one could argue that the general rule will apply even to the operation of micro drones, since the said rule makes no distinction as to the size of drones and makes it mandatory for the operator of aerial work to apply for certificate of authorization. Unless clarified by CAAP, this issue will remain unclear.

Before an operator could operate aerial works he/she must first possess a valid certificate of authorization issued by the CAAP. This is the main reason why so many individuals employing drone technology in their business reacted to the issuance of this Memorandum.

Under this Memorandum, no person is eligible to be certificated as a UAV operator unless:

a)    the person has an organization and structure that is appropriate for safe operation of UAVs;

b)    the person has enough qualified and experienced personnel to undertake the proposed operations safely;

c)     the person has facilities and equipment appropriate to carry out the proposed operations using UAVs of the type to be used;

d)    the person has suitable practices and procedures to conduct operation;

e)    if necessary, the flight crew are certified as UAV controllers and hold flight radiotelephone operators’ certificates of proficiency; and

f)   the person has nominated suitable persons as chief UAV controller and maintenance controller.

An operator is defined as a person, organization or enterprise engaged in or offering to engage in an aircraft operation. The operator should apply for authorization at least 90 days before the intended operation. The CAAP may not issue a certificate of authorization to an operator if it believes that the latter does not demonstrate an adequate organization, method of control and supervision of flight operations, training program as well as ground handling and maintenance arrangements consistent with the nature and extent of operations specified. The certificate of authorization once issued will be valid for three (3) years unless revoked and shall also indicate the authorized area of operations.

If a person intends to be a controller or someone who performs a function that would be if the drone were a manned aircraft, a function of its flight crew, then these are the eligibility requirements:

a)   Only an individual is eligible to be certificated as a UAV controller.

b)  No person is eligible to be certificated as a UAV controller unless he or she:

1)  Qualifies for the issue of a radio operator’s certificate of proficiency;

2)  Has been awarded a passed rating in an aviation license theory examination (other than a flight radio operator’s examination);

3)  Has been awarded a passed rating in an instrument rating theory examination;

4) Has completed a training course in the operation of the type of UAV that he or she proposes to operate, conducted by the UAV’s manufacturer; and

5)  Has at least five (5) hours experience in operating UAVs outside controlled airspace.

c)   No person shall be certificated as UAV Controller unless he/she holds:

1)  A flight crew license with a command instrument rating; or

2)  A military qualification equivalent to a license or rating mentioned in paragraph (1); or

3)  An air traffic control license or a military qualification equivalent to an air traffic control license.

As a result of this strict eligibility requirements, some individuals are already thinking of abandoning their business rather than apply for these qualifications which they believe would take time and/or too costly.

With respect to operation of drones near people, as a general rule, an operator or controller cannot use a drone within 30 meters of a person who is not directly associated with the operation of the drone. There are two exceptions, in case of take off and when it approaches a person not closer than 10 meters horizontally and 30 feet vertically.

One section states that no person may operate a UAV for hire or reward unless the person holds a UAV operator’s certificate that authorizes that person to operate the UAV. (Does this mean that if a person does not operate a UAV for hire or reward, he/she can operate a UAV even without an operator’s certificate?)

With respect to the use of drones in populous areas, the CAAP rule is strict in requiring its approval except when if any of the drone’s components fails, it would be able to clear the area. Thus an operator cannot use his/her drone, without CAAP’s prior approval, during a pork-barrel rally in Luneta, during a Nazarene procession in Quiapo or during the visit of Pope Francis in UST as it is expected to draw several individuals and thus be considered as populous areas.

Violations of these rules will merit suspension, administrative sanction, revocation or civil penalties from Php300,000 – 500,000 depending on the gravity of the offense committed.

Author: Atty. James Biron
Atty. James S. Biron is a corporate lawyer specializing in foreign investments, trade, mergers and acquisitions, planning and financing of projects and capital raising. Clients served include real estate, construction, energy, information technology, agriculture, education, medical and casino gaming companies.


  • Matt

    Any idea if this applies to someone on holiday? I have the DJI phantom with an attached camera I plan to use while visiting Palawan. Any idea what the process would be to make sure I can get through customs legally and somewhat efficiently?

    • Atty. James Biron

      Hi Matt, I sent you an email, please check

      • Matt

        So bringing a phantom into the country to fly/film the family while we are on vacation is prohibited? I’m confused because based on size it seems you say they are regulated. Yet since it is for recreational use it is not.

        Can approval be obtained in advance so customs does not hold it? If so, is that a service you provide? How much would it cost?

  • Dominic

    What would be the process for a tourist visiting the Philippines for a holiday to legally use a drone? I plan to use my Inspire 1 drone that has a video camera attached to it in places such as North Luzon and Palawan. Would it be a similar rigorous process as mentioned in the article? Thank you.

  • Cesar Quitlong

    Gus pm po, atty James question Lang po ksi ung bayaw ko bumili ng parrot AR drone 2.0 sa ibang Bansa pauwi n po sya ngaun nov.25 dto s pilipinas magkkaproblema po b sya s custom s pagbili ng drone, tpos kailangan po b ng permit s pag operate ng drone at pano po kumuha ng permit kng sakali po, maraming salamat po atty James dun nalang po kayo reply s email ko. Thanks po!

  • Abner Barnuevo

    Hi, just a clarification. We are scheduled to go to Cebu 3rd week of Nov with DJI to be used for aerial photography. Do we need to register it? We will be there just for 3 days. Thanks

  • Brian Macalinao

    Gud Pm , can you help to clarify if it is prohibited to fly a drone in sofitel hotel as i will be helding a wedding coverage.

  • Noel H.

    Sir, Good Day! I have a question one of our Client purchase a Drone abroad for Personal use only,
    Would there be a problem if he will declare it as Baggage? and what would be the Requirements upon his arrival? Hope you will reply on this.. Thank you so much sir!

  • Shaun

    From your article, I’m a bit confused. I wish to operate my DJI Mavic in the Philippines for RECREATIONAL use only. What regulations apply to me? It seems a few people have asked here, but no responses were made publicly, which might help us out a bit. I’d appreciate your thoughts and clarification on this matter. Thanks very much for you time and expertise.

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