Should You Take Your Drone to Tonga?
Tonga has many stunning landscapes and wildlife to admire from an aerial view. However, after seeing the time-consuming process for registration for drones in Tonga, you might want to consider whether taking a drone to Tonga is really worth it. To legally fly a drone in Tonga, you need to register your drone. This involves a bit of a search around Nuku’alofa to find the right government buildings to register your drone. In some cases, drones are even confiscated at Customs where owners will have to go back to the port it was confiscated at with a drone permit to retrieve the drone. Still want to fly a drone in Tonga? Find out more about the drone arrival and registration process in the guide below!
For more information on what to expect when you arrive in Tonga, see Arrival at Nuku’alofa Airport: Step-by-Step and Everything You Need to Know About Arriving in Tonga.
Tonga Drone Flying Rules
You need to abide by specific rules when flying a drone in Tonga. They are outlined on the Drone Registration Form and a Civil Aviation Division (CAD) officer will go through them with you to make sure you know them. The rules include:
- Give way to all manned aircraft
- Do not operate an aircraft that is 25kg (55lbs) or larger
- Fly the aircraft so it isn’t a hazard to other aircraft, property and people
- Fly only in daylight
- Be able to see your aircraft with your own eyes (not through binoculars, a monitor or smartphone) or have a second person with you as an observer
- Fly your aircraft no higher than 120m (400ft) above ground level
- Have knowledge of the airspace and restrictions applied to the area you want to operate
- Fly no closer than 4km (2.5 miles) from an uncontrolled aerodrome
- When flying in a controlled airspace, obtain air traffic control clearance issued from the Air Traffic Control Tower
- Have permission from the administering authority (such as the army) to fly in a special used airspace
- Have consent from anyone you want to fly above
- Have consent of the property owner or person in charge of the area you are wanting to fly above.
Declaring Your Drone on Arrival
When you arrive at Fua’amotu International Airport or Lupepau’u International Airport, you should declare your drone to Customs officers. Drones are not listed on the Tonga Passenger Arrival Card so you will need to verbally declare that you have a drone while you are getting your passport checked. You will be given instructions on what to do next.
You might be free to keep your drone but told to register it at the Civil Aviation Division (CAD) in Nuku’alofa (more on that below). On the other hand, Customs have been known to confiscate drones until you can provide them with a copy of your drone registration. You may also be requested to pay a 50% deposit of the drone, which you will get back from the CAD when you do the Drone Registration Form.
See what else you need to declare on arrival to Tonga here.
How to Register Your Drone in Tonga
We have a complete guide on How to Register a Drone in Tonga. In short, you need to register your drone with the CAD at the Ministry of Infrastructure building in Nuku’alofa.
At the CAD office, you will be given a Drone Registration Form to complete, which requires the following information:
- Name of the owner and/or operators and their ID number (can be a passport number)
- Contact phone number
- Certificates/licences held for drone
- Address in Tonga (can state accommodation you are staying in)
- Email address
- Drone manufacturer
- Model of the drone
- Serial number of the drone (can usually be found on the drone underneath the battery)
- Equipment installed
- Maximum operational height
- Maximum operational distance
- Battery life
- Total weight
- Locations of where you intend to use the drone
- The purpose for using the drone (can be recreational if just taking holiday photos or state otherwise)
- Place of residence
- Departure date from Tonga
Once you have completed the Drone Registration Form, the CAD officer with go through the Tonga drone rules (same as the ones stated above) with you. You will then sign and date the form, as will the CAD officer. The officer will also stamp the form if approved. If you had to pay a deposit at the airport for your drone, you will be refunded at the CAD office.
You can now legally fly your drone in Tonga.
How to Get Your Drone from Customs
If your drone was confiscated on arrival at Customs, then you should retrieve it from Customs after you have had your Drone Registration Form approved. This means you will have to go back to the Customs office where your drone was detained, most likely Fua’amotu International Airport. Present your copy of the Drone Registration Form and the receipt given to you by Customs on arrival for the drone and you should receive your drone back.
Note that you can only retrieve items from the Customs office during the opening hours of 8.30am-4.30pm, Monday to Friday.
Check out more information about Customs in Tonga in Arrival Advice: Biosecurity and Customs in Tonga.