Hong Kong to Further Regulate Drones

With the rise in drone usage for both commercial and recreational activities, air safety regulators around the world have increasingly focused on the impact of drones (otherwise known as unmanned aircraft systems or UAS) on flight safety and efficiency. Consistent with calls by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) for more oversight, Hong Kong’s Civil Aviation Department (CAD) recently announced plans to step up the regulation of commercial and recreational drones.

Although the CAD has provided basic guidelines for the safe use of drones, it imposes few requirements and has not issued specific regulations on drones. The Air Navigation (Hong Kong) Order 1995 does not generally apply to aircraft weighing seven kilograms or less, and operators of recreational drones under that weight threshold do not require permits before use. CAD does require a commercial operation permit pursuant to Regulation 22 of the Air Transport (Licensing of Air Services) Regulations for all commercial drones. CAD now plans to increase regulatory oversight.

In a Dec. 12 presentation to a Hong Kong legislative committee, CAD announced that it is considering forming a UAS registration system for all drones 250 grams and up (whether for commercial use or not) and potentially requiring training, licensing and insurance for certain risk categories and uses of drones. CAD informed the committee that it would continue to evaluate proposals and would provide recommendations for a public consultation on a new UAS regulatory framework in early 2018 with a target completion date of mid-2018.

Given the rising popularity of drones and Hong Kong’s congested airspace, it is not surprising that regulation is set to become more stringent. Companies using drones for commercial purposes should continue to monitor CAD’s activities in the first quarter of 2018 and prepare for new legislation and/or regulations by mid-year.