Hong Kong drone owners may have to pass tests and register with authorities

Civil Aviation Department launches consultation on proposed regulations, including proper training and insurance requirements for the popular gadgets

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 April, 2018, 10:04pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 April, 2018, 9:13am

Owners of drones may have to register with the authorities, take training and pass tests, and meet insurance requirements under proposals Hong Kong officials are mulling as they seek to regulate the remote-controlled flying devices.

The Civil Aviation Department (CAD) on Tuesday launched a three-month public consultation exercise to get feedback on recommendations in a consultancy study conducted last year.

The department cited calls for a fundamental review of existing laws, “which are considered rudimentary and unable to cope with technological advancements of drones”.

The consultants also recommended drawing an official map to specify no-fly zones for drones.

Under the proposals for consideration, owners would have to register drones weighing more than 250 grams, and take “short web-based training” to fly drones weighing between 250g and 7kg. Those operating drones weighing more than 7kg would have to undergo more in-depth training and get certification from the CAD. Third-party insurance would also be mandatory for the operation of drones weighing more than 250 grams.

At present, drones in Hong Kong are classed as aircraft and governed by civil aviation legislation. Operators are required to observe telecoms laws, but there is no specific regulation on the use of drones, known formally as “unmanned aerial vehicles”.

Civil aviation law only requires those who operate drones weighing more than 7kg, for leisure or commercial photography, to apply to the CAD. 

Critics and concerned parties have long called for rules tailor-made to drones, which have soared in popularity as newer and more hi-tech models have become available.

During the Formula E races last December, a man was arrested for flying a drone over the track, in breach of local aviation laws.

Obviously, drones used to deliver goods and drones used for outdoor competitions like first-person-view racing pose different risks and should be subject to different rules
Jeremy Tam, legislator

Lock Chow, founder of UAVHongkong, a group that represents drone users in the city, welcomed the proposals.

“The registration system will be very useful. In the event of an accident, at least, the government can know who the drone owner is and who should be responsible,” said Chow, also the creative director at Bighead Creative, a multimedia production company that specialises in aerial shooting.

Civic Party lawmaker and pilot Jeremy Tam Man-ho agreed that updated regulations were badly needed. “The proposed measures are a good step forward,” he said. “The present laws are  inadequate.”

Tam highlighted the lack of a no-fly zone map for drones. “There are some general guidelines, like drones cannot be allowed within the aerodrome traffic zone. But this can be very vague and make it difficult for users to follow sometimes.”

However, Tam suggested adopting different rules to regulate drones depending on what they are used for.

“You can’t regulate all drones by one law or one set of regulations,” he said. “Obviously, drones used to deliver goods and drones used for outdoor competitions like first-person-view racing pose different risks and should be subject to different rules.”

The privacy commissioner should also play a part in the future regulatory system, Tam added.

In January, New People’s Party legislator Eunice Yung Hoi-yan reported to police that she had found a drone hovering around the balcony of her home. 

Several Hong Kong government departments use drones for day-to-day applications, including the Fire Services Department, the Lands Department and the city’s elite police squads.

Drone came within 5 metres of passenger jet as it was landing

Last year, SF Express, a logistics company in mainland China, started using drones to deliver goods after receiving the country’s first drone airspace licence. Some of the drones used by SF Express can reportedly carry up to 25kg and have a range of up to 100km.

Recently, the International Air Transport Association, the global trade body for airlines, called on governments to ensure law enforcement plays a key role in deterring dangerous flying of recreational drones.