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The CAAC will require all civil-use drones that weigh more than 250g to be registered on its online system from June 1. Photo: Bloomberg

NewChina to require drone owners to register using their real names in bid to improve air safety


Mainland Chinese pilots of recreational drones such as the Phantom and Mavic models sold by DJI will have to register with the country’s civilian aviation regulator starting June 1, according to a statement by the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC).

China’s civil aviation watchdog will introduce a real-name registration policy for drone owners in a bid to address concerns over aviation safety and national security posed by increasing adoption of drones in the country.

The CAAC will require all civil-use drones that weigh more than 250g to be registered on its online system from June 1, China’s state media Xinhua said in blog post on Weibo on Tuesday.

“Just like there is traffic regulation for cars, there ought to be regulation for those who operate their vehicles in the sky. Real-name registration will guide the drone industry in China towards a healthy development,” said Sophie Pan, analyst with IDC China.

The move is the latest by Chinese authorities to tackle the drone safety threat after the illegal use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) made headlines at least a dozen times since the beginning of 2017.

The latest case was in April when more than 240 flights were disrupted by drones flying near Chongqing Jiangbei International Airport in southwest China, leaving 10,000 travellers delayed.

Reports from mainland media suggest that the CAAC has been looking at introducing the real-name registration policy since last year. CAAC director Feng Zhenglin said in March that the regulator would introduce convenient approaches for the management of small UAVs for recreational or sports purposes. “For instance, we plan to set up electric fencing in clearance protection areas around airports,” he said at the time.

Drones like this DJI Mavic Pro will have to be registered online. Photo: Eric Wong
Drones are taking off in a big way in China. Once the preserve of the military, they are now used in a wide range of industries, from aerial surveillance of crops to search operations and delivery of medical supplies to remote or otherwise inaccessible regions. For Chinese consumers, drones have become the favoured gadget for taking aerial videos and photos.

China is already home to several prominent UAV makers, including the world’s largest drone producer DJI. There are no statistics on the number of drones operating in China, but the market is set to develop rapidly in coming years, according to experts.

The overall UAV market in China is expected to reach 75 billion yuan (US$10.9 billion) by 2025, of which consumer drones will contribute 30 billion yuan while agricultural and forestry drones, as well as security drones, are likely to account for 20 billion yuan and 15 billion yuan respectively, iiMedia Research said in a report last year.

However, the real-name registration policy could dampen drone sales in the country in the near future even if it is implemented for good reasons, said industry insiders.

IDC’s Pan said the majority of made-in-China drones weigh more than 250g, which means almost all drones in the China market will have to go through the new registration process.


Zhang Yiyi, sales manager of Flypro Aerospace Tech, a Shenzhen-based consumer drone maker, said the new regulation is necessary but it will lower sales numbers in the short term. “Most of the drone operators follow the rules but the policy can force the small group of those who don’t comply to behave,” she said.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: China asks drone owners to register with real names