Some years ago we came up with the acronym T.N.O. which stand for Typical Nicaraguan Operation. This is in reference to how sometimes or, quite often, things are done a little different down here and that’s not always a good thing. In general TNO means it takes three tries to get something done and usually with only mediocre results. It’s not a high standard.
The latest example of TNO involves our buddy Mike Gentile attempting to bring his drone into the country. He was stopped at customs, one of his bags was searched and in it he had a new DJI Phantom Drone with all the trimmings…about $2000 worth of gear. The customs officer told Mike that he needed special permission from INAC (Nicaragua Civil Aviation) to get the drone out of customs and into the country. Of course it was late on a Friday night and the office wouldn’t be open until Monday. Monday we set off to see what we could do. We asked at the airport where the INAC office was and we were directed to Gate 9 just a few hundred meters away. At Gate 9 we were told there was no INAC office there. We pressed a little harder and found out INAC was at the ‘other’ Gate 9 another 50 yards down the road. Both gates access the same parking lot, but we had to back out and enter at the ‘other’ Gate 9?! Now at Gate 9.5 the next guard tells us that nobody is there and we have to come back at 1pm. It’s about 11am so we go get lunch, pick up a guest and make plans to return. We’re back promptly at 12:55 and we wait until about 1:15 to get in the gate. Once in the office they’re pretty helpful and I write a letter saying that we need to get a drone out of customs so we can take pictures and video of surfers. This office needs to be signed my the Director General who is conveniently out sick. They also need a copy of the customs claim ticket and Mike’s passport…but they don’t have a copy machine of course! (what office doesn’t have a copy machine? They had one, they just didn’t want to make a copy for us). Now back in the car we get a copy made at the Best Western Hotel and get back to the INAC office within about 5 minutes. This was apparently fast as they were surprised to see us so soon. The woman at the desk, Juana, takes the letter and copies and says to come back tomorrow and she’ll have the letter signed for us. Fast forward to the next morning (yesterday). We arrive at the office at 10am…thinking we would give the Director General time to get his cup of coffee, have some water cooler chat, waste some time and eventually get to signing our letter of permission. Upon arrival there are tents covering the parking lot, a stage is set up and a large audience of people are listening to some important looking person on the stage. The Director General is in the audience. We’re asked to come back at 1pm! We get a long lunch and return promptly at 12:55 and get in the office again at 1:15. We only waited about 15 minutes and a woman comes out with another type written letter with a couple of paragraphs and asks Mike to sign it and tell him it’s only good for one time…we’re elated. We’ve gotten out permission slip to get the drone out of customs! They tell us to go to Gate 5 where customs is to retrieve the package. The drone is not at Gate 5…we’re told to go to the airport. We go to the airport and talk to Copa Airlines to give us a translator/representative to help us through the mess. A guy shows up and after some brief explaining takes us to another customs office. The customs agent says, sorry, the permission slip says “no you can’t have the drone” and, by the way, you owe us $35 for storing the drone here at customs during your week vacation????!!!!! We did some arguing, studied the letter again, which did quote a law from 1946 saying that no unmanned aircraft can fly over Nicaragua without special permission. Then at the bottom it said flying the drone in Nicaragua was prohibited. Oddly enough, another Nicaraguan man, was trying to receive his drone at the same time. He had the same letter and he caught the error at the INAC office and they told him the letter was good and to take it to customs. He didn’t get his drone either. He lives here, so $2 a day for 10 months until he was leaving the country again meant he owed $600 in storage fees for his drone!!!!
I don’t think Mike wants to go back to Managua today. I think he’s over it. I’m still hurt and confused and I’ve spent three years dealing with TNO on a regular basis. Hopefully some day Nicaragua realizes that nobody is trying to spy on them. Drone footage is a new hot thing and good videos coming out of Nicaragua will only strengthen the growing tourism industry. In the mean time they’re turning away drones at a cost the already labored economy here. This is not to mention that you can go the local mall and buy a remote control helicopter in any number of colors and sizes, the larger ones easily could be fit with a Go-Pro camera…some even have low res cameras built in already…and I’m pretty sure they’re just like a drone, but just lesser quality. In the mean time, a note to all of you out there. Nicaragua is a no drone fly zone and you won’t be allowed to bring it into the country. So if you’re thinking of trying, disassemble it into as many small pieces as you can and tell them it’s a remote control car or parts for a dishwasher. Tell them it’s anything but a drone or you’ll suffer a little TNO yourself.