Regulating drone use needs to take off

Given the increasing popularity of drones and the safety implications that brings, the targeted regulation proposed by the Hong Kong government is not unreasonable. And the government should also closely monitor global developments on the issue to ensure our standards do not lag behind

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 08 April, 2018, 2:16am
UPDATED : Sunday, 08 April, 2018, 2:16am

The growing use of drones has made the need for regulation evident. From recreation to goods delivery, from scientific research to law enforcement, these unmanned flying devices have become increasingly popular in Hong Kong and elsewhere.

But the truth is that our laws targeting conventional aircraft have failed to keep up with the times as drones become more affordable, sophisticated and accessible. It was not until two years ago that officials recognised the problem and put it on the government agenda. Now that a public consultation has finally been launched, it is time to push ahead and get the details right.

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Under the proposal, remote-controlled aircraft may have to be registered with the authorities, with the users required to take out insurance and undergo training. The higher the operational risks, the more stringent the control. An official map specifying the no-fly zones for drones in the city has also been recommended.

Given the popularity of such devices and their safety implications, the requirements are not unreasonable. As long as it can promote responsible usage and does not hamper more innovative and legitimate application in future, the new regime is worthy of support.

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Hong Kong is not alone in introducing targeted regulation. Although a standardised international approach has yet to be formulated, many countries have long recognised the need for better control and have taken action. For instance, Singapore has adopted a permit system to facilitate safe and responsible operation of drones.

The United States Federal Aviation Administration has also introduced rules mandating registration. The Hong Kong government should closely monitor the global developments and ensure our standards are not lagging behind.

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It is good to hear that the industry welcomes the change. Some traders say clients have expressed privacy concerns over registration and that it may therefore affect their business. But they believe it is the right way to go, referring to the fact that some inexperienced users just bought and flew the device right away without even reading the manual. That makes regulation all the more important. Hopefully, it won’t take long before the new regime can take off.