Stuck in (Moroccan) customs

Who knew a whole country had banned drones?! Well now I do!

I recently visited Marrakech Airport. Specifically the customs office. It wasn’t planned or intentional, but here’s what happened.

I started shooting with DJI drones around a year ago, starting with the Phantom and now totally owning the Mavic Pro. Let me tell you, it’s phenomenal what that little piece of aviation wizardry can do! But get this – Morocco doesn’t like drones! It seems to all be owing to a rather broad bit of legislation surrounding the use of ‘aircraft sans pilot’. Perhaps if I’d had my little Lego pilot named Stan on board I would have avoided this situation altogether, but I hadn’t had the foresight to sort him out a Lego ticket so I’m afraid I certainly was ‘sans pilot’.

So right there after baggage claim, as with every airport of course, there’s the customs clearance. It’s unlike one I’ve ever seen before though – no discernible channels as such – it’s just a rope-stanchioned lane directing everyone towards a huge, standalone X-ray scanner, followed by the door to freedom. Everybody was placing their luggage onto it and clearing past it and leaving into the arrivals hall. Not me though! First off, travel buddy Scott Kelby was right in front of me and upon placing his case on the conveyor the staff pointed at a hard Bose headphone case attached to the top of his bag and sternly questioned him, “Drone?” “No” he replied, but that wasn’t enough, it got a good prodding and poking before it went through the scanner. No questions had been asked of anybody other than, “drone?” and when it got to my turn, after considering the potential consequences of a fingers-crossed hope that the X-ray machine might not see my drone an I could deny it, I said “yes, in the top.” My bags went through and I was taken to a little room looking akin to an office (the room next to which, leading onto the baggage hall, contained a fold up bed ‘hidden’ behind a roller poster stand) which, curiously, had nothing in it but paperwork and drones. All Mavic Pro’s in fact.

In the office, not having much idea what was going on with my schoolboy French and perhaps three of four phrases of Arabic, I was unable to really question what was happening the way I’d have liked to. I managed to ask, in my basic French, what I could do to ‘authorise’ the use of my drone and was presented a leaflet written in Arabic…. So that was a dead end. I had my receipt, my drone was labelled as being mine (eventually, after I insisted it was done and the man in uniform dramatically scrawled a label and stuck it to my case) and I was out of there. 

The following few days in Morocco resulted, needless to say, in not one single drone shot. I had to make do with a camera averse nation, some reasonable looking spices, and goats in a tree.

The return visit to the airport involved several escorted trips to and from the secure areas, a very anxious wait by the customs office which appeared abandoned was ended when I discovered that the officer was in fact asleep and the office hadn’t been abandoned at all! I presented my receipt, paid an unexpected 200 Durham fee, and off I went with one of the younger in service who took me to a room to collect my drone from the pile. Take a look at this:-

With a close look you’ll count around 30 drones of various shapes and sizes, and who knows whether their owners will get them back! 

Ladies and Gentlemen. That’s Moroccan customs as seen through my eyes. Good luck to you! And just to finish off, yes, I did say goats in a tree. Much love.


Aside from the fear of losing a drone it was a very good trip

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