LCQ22: Aviation safety of unmanned aircraft systems

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


     In recent years, the use of unmanned aircraft systems (UASs) by members of the public for photography purpose has become increasingly common. According to 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. However, permits must first be obtained from CAD for flying UASs exceeding this weight for recreational purpose. On the other hand, if UASs are used for reward, such as photography work, regardless of their sizes or weights, an application must be made to CAD prior to their operation and, in the provision of services, the conditions stipulated in the permit granted by CAD must be complied with. Regarding the regulation of using UASs for photography purpose, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) of CAD's current procedures and staff establishment for processing applications for the aforesaid permits; the number of such applications received by CAD in the past three years and, among such applications, the respective numbers of approved and rejected cases;

(2) of the channels available for members of the public to lodge complaints against the problems caused by flying UASs; the number of related complaints received by CAD in the past three years; the respective numbers of cases in which the persons under complaint were warned, prosecuted and convicted; apart from CAD, the other government departments which are responsible for law enforcement and the legislation involved;

(3) given that CAD has stipulated the location parameters for flying UASs, of the penalties for contravening the relevant parameters;

(4) given that members of the public upload UAS footage onto the Internet from time to time, whether CAD will examine such footage to see if it contains evidence of illegal flying of UASs and institute prosecutions using such evidence;

(5) as I have learnt that some employers require their employees to learn and use UASs for undertaking photography work, whether the authorities have assessed if the employees concerned will be held criminally liable in case an accident occurs in the course of operating the UAS; if the assessment outcome is in the affirmative, of the details of the criminal liabilities; and

(6) given the advancing and changing technology in the use of UASs for photography purpose, whether the authorities will consider strengthening regulation in order to protect public safety; if they will not, of the reasons for that?



     The use of unmanned aircraft systems (UASs) is becoming more popular and versatile in recent years. Apart from leisure pursuit, UASs nowadays are also used for aerial surveillance and photography, search and rescue, etc. With the advance in technology, UASs have grown in types with a greater variety, and user groups have also expanded from professionals or veterans to include the general public. Since UASs are one kind of aircraft, improper use will pose danger to the public and they are thus governed by the relevant civil aviation legislation. Any person operating a UAS must comply with related requirements.

     Our reply to the Hon Leung Che-cheung's question is as follows:

(1) Since UASs are one kind of aircraft, its flight safety is regulated by the civil aviation legislation. In particular, any person using a UAS for reward, such as providing aerial photography service, must comply with the requirement stipulated in Regulation 22 of the Air Transport (Licensing of Air Services) Regulations (Cap. 448A, Laws of Hong Kong). He must lodge an application with the CAD before operating a UAS and he must abide by the conditions stipulated in the permit granted by the CAD in providing the service. Generally speaking, conditions of the permit will include the requirements that the operators must put in place adequate safety measures to ensure aviation safety, and they must be able to present documents issued by an insurance company, stating that their UASs are duly protected by applicable insurance coverage.  

     The processing of applications for operating UASs is part of the normal duties of the CAD. The department will review its staff establishment from time to time in the light of the development of relevant policies and the trend of applications received. In the past three years, the number of applications for the aforesaid permit received by the CAD and the figures of approved and rejected applications are shown in the following table:

                       2012   2013   2014
                       -----  -----  -----
Applications approved    3      8      24
Applications rejected    0      5       1
Others (Note)            1      6      16

Total number of          4     19      41
Note: Examples include applicants' withdrawal of applications and pending submissions of further information by the applicants.

(2) and (4) Currently, members of the public can make enquiries or lodge complaints with the CAD regarding the operations of UASs in writing and through the government hotline 1823. The table below shows the cases received by the CAD demanding follow-ups to the operations of UASs in the past three years:

                      2012   2013   2014
                      -----  -----  -----
Number              0      0      6

     In general, after receiving enquires or referrals via different channels (including UAS video clip uploaded onto the Internet), the CAD will follow up the cases based on the available information. Follow-up actions include obtaining further information from the parties concerned for analysis, urging the parties concerned to comply with the flight safety regulations of UAS flights and requesting the relevant Police division to step up patrol. Also, the CAD has been liaising with the Police and providing technical support to the Police in its enforcement action. Members of the public should report to the Police without delay any suspected contravention of the above-mentioned legislation for its further investigation.

(3) and (5) All operators of UASs have the responsibility to ensure flight safety. Those who operate UASs (employers and employees alike) are all governed by Article 48 of the Air Navigation (Hong Kong) Order 1995 (Cap. 448C, Laws of Hong Kong), which stipulates that a person shall not recklessly or negligently cause or permit an aircraft to endanger any person or property. Offenders are liable to prosecution and upon conviction face a fine and up to two years' imprisonment. Article 48 of the Air Navigation (Hong Kong) Order 1995 applies regardless of the weight of the UAS involved or the purpose of the flight.

     With a view to enhancing the public's awareness of the safe operations of UASs, the CAD has published a guide entitled Safety in Radio-Controlled Model Aircraft Flying for the public's reference. This safety guide applies to UASs not exceeding seven 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.

(6) At present, there are still no standardised international requirements to regulate the operations of UASs. Nevertheless, the CAD has noted that certain overseas countries such as the USA, Canada and Japan are now developing their respective regulatory framework in regard to the 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 the operational parameters of and the regulatory policies on UASs and consider amending the relevant legislation as appropriate, in order to ensure public safety.

Ends/Wednesday, October 14, 2015
Issued at HKT 15:02