What are the current rules and regulations regarding the use of drones in Iceland? Is it possible to fly your drone everywhere, and if not, where are the most recommended spots? Read on to find out all you need to know about flying drones in Iceland... as well as check out some incredible drone footage!
Photo by Jared Brashier
- Read Best Itineraries for Photography Lovers in Iceland for more information
- Book this Westfjords Wildlife Photography Adventure
Over the last decade, UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle), or 'drone technology', has come on leaps and bounds, transforming from the latest in military equipment to portable home devices, capable of capturing staggering 4K footage and photographs.
It has, without doubt, ignited a photographic renaissance, a digital revolution where cameramen of all styles, creed and background can now access angles and locations that once would have been impossible to reach.
- See also: Photography in Iceland
This has transformed the way that we capture the world around us, as well as how we view it—as technology continues to develop, the line between amateur and professional filmmaker blurs, especially when considering the plethora of drone-shot showreels found today online.
It is, in short, an exciting time to get into photography.
Header Photo Credit: Max.Pixel.
As prices continue to drop on recreational drones, more and more people are opting to try their hand at this new style of easy-access aerial wizardry. This has been no different from other major steps in the history of photography; celluloid to digital, shoulder-mounted cams to GoPros, 35mm to 4K...
...this is an industry forever reshaping itself, and as drone photography increases in popularity and usage—just in Iceland, but around the world—an entirely new wave of style, composition and technique must now be welcomed with open arms.
- See also: Top 10 Apps for Travelling in Iceland
Iceland, however, has become a particular favourite location for drone photographers over the last few years. After all, the dramatic, untouched and wild landscapes that characterise this country lend themselves to stunning aerial footage, something that Hollywood has picked up on as quickly as amateur drone filmmakers.
Drones can currently be purchased in Iceland from a number of stores, including the hardware store, ELKO, where consumers can expect prices ranging from 5000 ISK to 333,000 ISK. There is also a store dedicated to drones found in downtown Reykjavík, DJI Reykjavík, convenient for those that may have left their battery charger at home or are in need of some additional cables or gadgets for their drone usage within Iceland.
This wide availability, however, has come with a number of problems, the greatest of which is a lack of experience in those purchasing them for immediate use.
Current Drone Regulations in Iceland.
Like any new technology, there has been a period of experimentation and tolerance when it comes to drones, something that legislators have had to work hard to try and deal with. This lack of regulation has, in the past, led to some truly incredible and foolhardy incidents.
Drones have been flown over airports and the White House, been used to smuggle narcotics into prison, and, on a lighter note, have been used to make cats (and other household pets) levitate around the room like strange, cyborg-birds. Such incidents can go on for only so long.
- See also: What To Do & Where To Go In Iceland
Back in 2016, drone hobbyists were becoming a serious problem to the local Icelanders, due in large part to the sheer amount of them and the lack of experience of their pilots. Brandur Bjarnason Karlsson of the Icelandic Drone Association said at the time:
"People don’t like seeing drones being flown over so many people. There isn’t a lot of experience yet with ensuring the safe use of these devices."
This was taken on board by the Icelandic government, who made moves to start regulating their usage. In regards to contemporary Icelandic legislation, it should first be noted that both recreational and commercial drone users do not need to have a drone permit in Iceland. With that being said, there are a number of important rules that must be adhered to at all times.
Those who fail to adhere to such regulations face fines, having your equipment taken away, and even arrest. It should also be made clear that regulations relating to drones are liable to change quickly, meaning you should keep yourself updated regularly to avoid any run-ins with the law.
Below are the following rules regarding drone use in Iceland (as of 2018):
- Always respect the privacy of others when flying your drone. Do not fly your drone over crowds or people.
- Do not exceed a maximum height of 120 metres (394 feet).
- Only fly your drone during the daylight hours, and only then in clear, bright weather with little wind. Keep the drone to your eye line.
- The use of drones and camera drones is prohibited near government or military facilities in Iceland.
- You are not permitted to fly your drone in Reykjavik above the height of the buildings. This is because of the close proximity of Reykjavik Domestic Airport to the downtown area. In urban areas, drones must weigh no more than 3 kg and display your name, address and phone number.
- It is not permitted to fly your drones within 2 kilometres (1.24 miles) of a commercial airport, or 1.5 kilometres (0.93 miles) near any other airport. Other excluded areas include national parks, hospitals, state institutes and power plants.
- You must also not fly closer than 150 metres (492 feet) to any public building, or any other building in rural areas. In urban areas, you must not fly closer than 50 metre (164 feet) to any building or premises. If you have express permission from the landowner in the case of residential buildings, these laws do not apply.
Despite these regulations, the misuse of drones continues to occur regularly in Iceland. Over the last few months, a number of stories have been reported linked to such behaviour, including one case where a drone-pilot came dangerously close to interrupting a rescue operation, whilst another had his machine banned after using it to spy into people's living rooms.
Trust me when I say that the Icelandic media is a relatively small industry with a reliable local base, so it is ever thirsty for stories about misbehaving tourists. If you wish to keep your name out of the papers, ensure that you're acting as responsibly as possible whilst flying your drone in Iceland.
Below, you can read the guidelines as specified by the Icelandic Transport Authority.
Bringing Your Drone on the Airplane
If you already own a drone, chances are that you will want to bring it with you on your holiday to Iceland. That, naturally, poses some tricky questions; check-in or carry-on? Are drone batteries allowed onto an aircraft? Should I buy a specialist travel bag?
- See also: Dumbest Things to Do in Iceland
Questions such as these will have to be weighed up before your flight, though it is always recommended that you check the specific details with your airline. With that being said, there is universal advice when it comes to travelling with a drone.
First of all, bear in mind that drone technology can be thin and fragile, thus not capable of taking the often-negligent way that bags are moved from the airport to the aircraft, and back again. If you are planning on checking in your drone, make sure that it is fully protected inside in the bag with labels marking it “FRAGILE”.
Also, keep in mind the fact that, according to the Montreal Convention, airlines are only liable for approximately $1000 USD in baggage loss. If you have to take a number of connecting flights to arrive in Iceland, know that with each stop, the chances of damage or stolen property increase, marking a pretty risky beginning to your vacation here.
Thankfully, there are a wide variety of drones available, all different shapes and sizes. Drones such as the DJI Phantom, DJI Mavic, and DJI Spark are all mobile enough that they may be brought on the plane with you, whilst bigger drones are, more often than not, shipped with full insurance to the destination separately. This would include such models as DJI Inspire and DJI Matrice.
When it comes down to a specialist drone bag, it is always recommended that you carry your equipment in luggage specifically designed for it. This means ample protection and organised sections where you can store different parts of your drone.
Know that “hard shell” bags are particularly advised if you plan to travel extensively with your drone, though these will likely cut into your budget more so than a “soft shell”.
And another important factor; lipo battery bags are essential when travelling overseas with a drone. If you do not have a lipo battery bag, it is likely that the airline will confiscate the batteries from you as they are considered to be “dangerous goods”.
One of the reasons why lipo battery bags are so essential is because they are sealed, thus ensuring that the battery does not catch fire.
Best Locations for Drone Photography in Iceland
Iceland is a land known for its staggering natural vistas, incredible attractions and open isolation, all three being major draws to the world’s photographers and filmmakers. On almost every tour sold in Iceland, one of the major instructions to guests is simple; bring your camera!
This is a country so fantastical and ancient, it often defies belief; footage is a sure-fire way of bringing your experience back to life, making for a far more interesting souvenir than, say, a stuffed Puffin or a Hallgrímskirkja snowglobe.
Please note that Vatnajökull National Park is very large, and new areas are incorporated into it regularly. For example, Skaftafell Nature Reserve and the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon are part of this park, thus drones are forbidden at both.
This regulation has been put in place to protect the regions' wildlife, as well as preserve the peace and tranquillity that many are trying to find in such locations.
Iceland's national parks have a peaceful ambience, thus the temptation may be there to try and get away with it. In short, don't; many visitors in the past began to complain that the low-flying buzz of a drone took away from their experience, and park staff will act on the law if they spot you.
This is not a total ban, however; those flying drones for science and research purposes are still allowed to fly at Vatnajökull, though permission must be granted to do so.
As well as within all national parks, the use of drones at many of Iceland's most popular attractions is now prohibited. Due to the increasing number of visitors as well as drone ownership, these restrictions have been put in place to preserve the visitor's experience which would undoubtedly be hampered if many drones were buzzing around.
These attractions include the famous waterfalls Gullfoss, Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss, as well as Reynisfjara Beach. To find out whether the use of drones is prohibited, look out for yellow signs that feature a picture of a drone with a red line through it, as well as the words "DRONES ARE FORBIDDEN". If you are not in a National Park and you cannot see one of these signs, you can assume you can fly your drone within the government guidelines mentioned above.
Another popular location for drone photography is the Westfjords, an area of incredible natural vistas, rugged coastlines and lively bird cliffs. The Westfjords are, arguably, some of the best types of locations to use your drone in Iceland thanks to the lack of other people nearby, making the practice far safer.
Guests to the Westfjords could take footage of such locations as the beautiful Arnarfjörður fjord or Rauðisandur beach. However, flying a drone at Látrabjarg cliffs is forbidden, as to not disturb the birdlife there, and restrictions of drone usage by the beautiful Dynjandi waterfall have been put in place, to ensure the peace and quiet in the area.
In truth, the aforementioned regions are mere recommendations. Frankly, the entire country is suited to drone photography, making it somewhat of an endless arena of possibilities for artists and filmmakers, although you will need to take some restrictions into consideration.
One of the great pleasures of having a drone handy is that, during your travels, you can stop off where you see fit to capture the incredible landscapes around you.
Drone film and photography also makes for an incredible souvenir, providing a fantastic and captivating alternative to showing friends and family the old holiday slideshow.
But, as already mentioned, piloting a drone in Iceland requires an up-to-date knowledge of the legislation, as well as practical experience flying. To maximise your drone use in Iceland, it is highly advised to practice your composition and handling beforehand, so as not to meet disappointment when here.
Did you enjoy our article, Flying Drones in Iceland | All You Need To Know? Did you bring your drone to Iceland, and if so, where did you find the best places to fly were? Were you met with any obstacles along the way? Do you feel as though we have missed anything out? Please, make sure to leave your thoughts and queries in the Facebook comments box below.
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