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LCQ10: Regulation of unmanned aircraft systems

     Following is a question by the Hon Lo Wai-kwok and a written reply by the Secretary for Transport and Housing, Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung, in the Legislative Council today (October 14):


     With the relevant technology maturing gradually, the prices of unmanned aircraft systems (UASs) have been on continuous decline, and they have become increasingly versatile.  Flying UASs has now become a recreational activity for quite a number of members of the public.  At the same time, the popularisation of UASs has brought about quite a number of new problems, including issues of public safety.  For instance, in July this year, a teenager in the United States conducted an experiment in which he succeeded in remotely firing four shots in a row from an automatic handgun mounted on a UAS, and he uploaded the clip of his experiment onto the Internet for showing off, leading to the worry that lawbreakers may follow suit.  Also in the same month, an incident occurred in Taipei in which a UAS hit the external wall of Taipei 101.  Regarding the regulation of UASs, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) given that under the existing legislation, flying UASs weighing not more than seven kilograms (without its fuel) for recreational purpose can be classified as flying radio-controlled model aircraft, and no application to the Civil Aviation Department (CAD) is required, but prior permission from CAD is required for flying UASs exceeding this weight for recreational purpose, whether the Government will consider amending the relevant legislation expeditiously to standardise the regulation of flying UASs of different weights for recreational purpose, and drawing up the relevant codes of operation of UASs; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(2) as UASs have become increasingly versatile, whether the Government will consider regulating the manufacture, import and sale of UASs used for different purposes, so as to safeguard public safety on the premise of not thwarting the healthy development of the relevant industries; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and

(3) whether it will consider collaborating with the relevant professional bodies to step up publicity and education on issues such as the uses and operation of UASs, the avoidance of privacy infringement and the safeguarding of public safety, etc.; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?



     Our reply to the Hon Lo Wai-kwok's question is as follows:

(1) Unmanned aircraft systems (UASs) are one kind of aircraft, and its flight safety is regulated by the civil aviation legislation.  Articles 3 and 7 of the Air Navigation (Hong Kong) Order 1995 (Cap. 448C, Laws of Hong Kong) (the Order) provide that an aircraft shall not fly unless it is issued with a Certificate of Registration and a Certificate of Airworthiness by the Civil Aviation Department (CAD) or the relevant aviation authority of that aircraft.

     Article 100 of the Order provides that an aircraft weighing not more than 7 kilograms (without fuel) is classified as a small aircraft.  Members of the public who use this kind of small aircraft are not required to apply for a Certificate of Registration or a Certificate of Airworthiness.  This policy measure, which aims to strike a proper balance between safeguarding public safety and catering to the public's recreational needs, is in line with the practice of certain overseas countries such as the United Kingdom and Australia.

     Nonetheless, the operators of UASs, regardless of the types and models of UASs operated, are governed by Article 48 of the Order, which stipulates that a person shall not recklessly or negligently cause or permit an aircraft to endanger any person or property.  The CAD has published a guide entitled Safety in Radio-Controlled Model Aircraft Flying and has uploaded it onto its website for the public's reference.  This safety guide applies to small aircraft (including a UAS) not exceeding 7 kilograms (without fuel) used for leisure flying.  Members of the public are advised not to fly a UAS in the vicinity of an airport or aircraft approach and take-off paths.  As to the sites of the operations of UASs, they should be clear of buildings, people and away from helicopter landing pads, and clear of any power sources such as power lines, transformer stations, pylons and transmitter towers which might cause radio interference.  The site should also be free from visual obstruction, so that the operator can see his UAS in flight, thereby avoiding any collision that may cause injuries, fatalities or damage to property.  Before operating a UAS exceeding 7 kilograms (without fuel) for leisure flying in Hong Kong, the operator must lodge an application with the CAD.

(2) At present, there are still no standardised international requirements to regulate the manufacture, import, sale and operations of UASs.  With the popularisation of small UASs, the CAD will, taking into account the development of regulatory requirements of overseas aviation authorities and the specific circumstances in Hong Kong, review in due course the regulatory policies on UASs and consider amending the relevant legislation, in order to ensure public safety.  

(3) The CAD has been attaching great importance to publicity and educational efforts on the safe operations of UASs.  In September 2014, the CAD, through the Police Report TV programme, reminded members of the public of the points to note when operating UASs.  In the video clip, the civil aviation legislation applicable to UASs was introduced and members of the public were told that UASs must not be allowed to fly over populated areas, to carry hazardous materials, or to drop any objects, in order to avoid endangering any person or property on the ground.

     From time to time, schools, youth organisations, professional bodies, the aviation sector, the transport and logistics sectors, charitable organisations, etc. pay a visit to the CAD's Education Path.  All visitors have the opportunity to watch a promotional video clip on the safe operations of UASs, and will be specifically briefed by a docent from the CAD.  Noting the growing application of UASs, the CAD will continue to strengthen its publicity and educational efforts through different channels, so as to raise the safety awareness of the relevant sectors and organisations, as well as the general public, about the operations of UASs.

     On privacy protection, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data issued the Guidance on CCTV Surveillance and Use of Drones to remind users of drones (i.e. UASs with cameras) of their duty in privacy protection in March 2015.  The guidance note reminds users of drones that the use of UASs in recording is also regulated by the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance (including the Data Protection Principles therein).  Users of drones should be particularly mindful of the need to respect people's privacy. They should also have due regard to and have understanding of public perception and the reasonable privacy expectations of the individuals affected.  Suggestions on such aspects as recording, retention and encryption of image transmission by drones are given in the guidance note.

     While UASs must be operated safely in accordance with the relevant civil aviation regulations, their other activities should also be in compliance with other Hong Kong laws.  If a UAS is used for illegal purposes, the government departments concerned will take follow-up action under applicable legislation depending on the illegal activities involved.

Ends/Wednesday, October 14, 2015
Issued at HKT 13:31


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