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Drones on ice: an assessment of the legal implications of the use of unmanned aerial vehicles in scientific research and by the tourist industry in Antarctica

  • David Leary (a1)

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), also known as drones, are used in scientific research and a diverse range of other applications across the globe. They are also being used increasingly for scientific research in Antarctica and to a lesser extent by tourists visiting the world's last great frontier tourist destination. Their use in scientific research in Antarctica offers many benefits to science and if used responsibly may be less invasive than other research techniques, offering a rich source of new scientific data. For tourists, UAVs also offer unique aerial photographic perspectives on Antarctica — the ultimate holiday snap shot. Concerns have been raised about the safety of drone use in the harsh and unpredictable Antarctic conditions, as well as possible environmental impacts. This paper considers these issues and the emerging regulatory response to drone use in Antarctica focusing on the Antarctic Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) Operator's Handbook, which provides guidelines to national Antarctic programmes on the use of UAVs in the Antarctic Treaty area, and the temporary ban on use of drones by tourists imposed by the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO). Both measures arguably constitute a good first response to this emerging issue, although more still needs to be done.

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