Speed up review of rules covering drones

The arrest of a man for allegedly flying a drone inside the departure hall of Hong Kong’s airport has made the need for better regulation and education evident

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 July, 2017, 12:58am
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 July, 2017, 12:58am

The arrest of a Hongkonger for allegedly flying a drone inside the departure hall of the city’s international airport has again put the regulation of such devices under the spotlight. While there are rules governing their use, awareness is another matter. The 51-year-old traveller allegedly used the drone to take images near a boarding gate before leaving for Tokyo last Thursday. He was arrested upon returning to the city on Monday, after his images caused an uproar on social media.

It does not take an aviation expert to determine that indoor areas with crowds are hardly the place for drones. But what appears to be common sense may not be readily appreciated by some people. The premise in question is governed by an Airport Authority by-law, which prohibits objects that may pose flight safety hazards. Non-compliance is subject to a maximum fine of HK$50,000 and six months’ jail. Whether the arrested man was aware of the restrictions remains unclear. But the growing use of these remote-controlled devices for recreational and commercial purposes means they are often used with little regard to the rules.

Man accused of flying drone to take photos in Hong Kong International Airport arrested

Currently, drones lighter than 7kg can be used for recreation without special approval. Separately, some parts of the city – such as north Lantau and Victoria Harbour – are designated as no-fly zones. The Civil Aviation Department and the Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data have also issued guidelines. But many users are amateurs and may not be fully aware of the rules and the dangers involved. In July 2014, a drone narrowly missed colliding with an aircraft taking off from London’s Heathrow airport. Over the past few months, hundreds of flights across China were also said to be disrupted by drones. It may be sheer luck that the flying gadget has yet to cause any serious mishaps in Hong Kong. But the need for better education and regulation is evident.The US Federal Aviation Administration has already introduced new rules mandating registration of drones. Singapore’s government has also adopted a permit system to facilitate safe and responsible operation without compromising innovation. Our government should speed up its review of the regulatory regime in light of the recent development.