Clear guidelines needed to regulate drones

Hong Kong should join countries like Britain and the United States that are actively working on a strategy to control the use of these popular devices

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 May, 2016, 11:49pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 May, 2016, 11:49pm

The growing use of drones has become an issue for governments around the world. From military surveillance and disaster response to recreation and commercial delivery, these unmanned aircraft have ventured beyond the aviation domain, raising a wide range of questions over security, privacy and public safety. Adding to the list of concerns is the possible use of these devices in political activities.

On Sunday, the Shenzhen police said they had arrested five people, one of whom was allegedly helping a Hong Kong activist buy a drone with the aim being to disrupt the visit to our city by state leader Zhang Dejiang (張德江 ). The activist confirmed the purchase, but said it was not only for Zhang’s visit.

Drone plot foiled ahead of Zhang Dejiang’s Hong Kong visit

The disclosure raises questions on whether the authorities are fully prepared for the challenges posed by the increasingly popular gadget. Currently, there are rules and guidelines. Drones lighter than 7kg for recreational purpose can be considered as model aircrafts and do not require approval by the Civil Aviation Department. There are also guidelines to protect safety and privacy. But whether they are well publicised is another matter, not to mention whether they are comprehensive enough.

The fact that drones are still a relatively new development means both the authorities and users may not be fully aware of the potential threat and danger associated with such devices. In Britain, a public engagement exercise led by the Ministry of Defence and the Department for Transport has been launched to identify the right strategy on the licensing and regulation of drones. Similarly, the US authorities are also moving towards registration. But the Hong Kong government does not seem to have such plan. Given their affordable cost and growing popularity, drones are expected to be used more widely for commercial, recreational and other purposes.

Police plan to jam drones during China state leader Zhang Dejiang’s visit

That makes education and regulation all the more important. The issues involved are wide ranging. Cross-departmental efforts are needed to get the right regulatory framework in place.