LCQ7: Regulation of unmanned aircraft systems

     Following is a question by the Hon Tony Tse and a written reply by the Secretary for Transport and Housing, Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung, in the Legislative Council today (April 20):


     With the rapid development of unmanned aircraft systems (UASs), they have become increasingly versatile and are used for purposes including recreation, aerial photography, search, and monitoring of event progress. It has been reported that UASs may possibly be used by lawbreakers for criminal purposes. In recent years, the governments of a number of countries have strengthened the regulation of UASs. For example, the Federal Aviation Administration of the United States has recently introduced a requirement that anyone who owns a UAS weighing more than 250 grams and less than 25 kilograms must register before operating the UAS outdoors, so that the identity of the owner can be tracked down when an accident involving UAS has occurred. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) of the number of reports of accidents involving UASs (including remote-controlled model aircrafts and helicopters) received by the authorities in each of the past three years, together with the causes, location and casualties of each accident;

(2)  whether the authorities conducted any review of the current legislation in the past three years to see if the regulation and requirements regarding the various aspects of UASs such as manufacture, import, sale and ownership still suit the present circumstances, and whether they will, by making reference to the practice of the United States, require owners of UASs to register; if such a review was conducted, of the outcome and details of the follow-up actions taken; if they will require owners to make such registrations, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and

(3) given that any person using a UAS (regardless of its volume or weight) 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. 448 sub. leg. A) by applying for a permit with the Civil Aviation Department (CAD) before operating a UAS and observing the conditions stipulated in the permit granted by CAD in providing the service, how the authorities ensure that all individuals or companies using UASs for reward have been granted a permit and observe the conditions stipulated therein; of the total number of non-compliance cases recorded by the authorities in the past three years, and the penalties imposed on the offenders?



     Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) is a kind of aircraft, and its flight safety is regulated by the civil aviation legislation. The Civil Aviation Department (CAD) attaches great importance to flight safety, including the operation of UAS, to ensure that such activities are performed in accordance with air safety requirement. With reference to current regulations, UAS operators, regardless of the weight and purpose of the UAS operated, are governed by Article 48 of the Air Navigation (Hong Kong) Order 1995 (Cap.448C, Laws of Hong Kong) (the Order). The Order stipulates that a person shall not recklessly or negligently cause or permit an aircraft to endanger any person or property.

     Separately, in accordance with Regulation 22 of the Air Transport (Licensing of Air Services) Regulations (Cap. 448A, Laws of Hong Kong), regardless of the weight, if a person uses a UAS for hire and reward, he/she must lodge an application with CAD before operating such aircraft and abide by the conditions stipulated in the permit granted by CAD in providing the service. Prior to the issuance of a permit, CAD will take into consideration whether the applicant and his/her UAS can operate under a safe condition. The permit issued by CAD will also stipulate relevant conditions and requirements to ensure safe operation.

     Articles 3, 7 and 100 of the Order provide that, any person must apply to CAD for a Certificate of Registration and a Certificate of Airworthiness for any unmanned aircraft weighing more than 7 kilograms (without fuel) before he/she can operate such aircraft.

     My reply to the specific parts of the Hon Tony Tse's question is as follows:

(1) According to CAD's record, there is no report of accidents involving UAS (including radio-controlled model aircrafts and helicopters) in the past three years.

(2) As aforementioned, the flight safety of UAS is regulated by civil aviation legislation whereas other areas, including privacy protection, product safety, etc., are regulated under relevant guidelines and regulations monitored by different policy bureaux and law enforcement agencies.

     With the rapid technological development of UAS and the increasing diversified use of UAS, governments all over the world have been actively considering strengthening the regulatory regime on the use of UAS. At present, there is neither standardised international requirement on the manufacture, import, sale and operations of UAS, nor a set of unified international regulatory guidelines and principles. In order to strengthen the protection of public safety, CAD is currently reviewing the regulatory policies on UAS and the need of amending relevant legislations by taking into account development of regulatory requirements of overseas aviation authorities, including that of registration, with due regard to the specific circumstances in Hong Kong. In the review of regulatory framework and enforcement measures, particular emphasis would be placed in striking a balance between the use of UAS for recreational and work purposes and the protection of public safety. At the same time, 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 UAS.

(3) As aforementioned, if a person uses UAS for hire and reward, he/she must lodge an application with CAD before operating the UAS and abide by the conditions stipulated in the permit granted by CAD in providing the service. The website of CAD has set out the requirements and application method for using UAS for hire and reward. CAD also promotes the relevant regulations, regulatory requirements and information on flight and operation safety through regular meeting with model flying clubs, professional UAS operators and UAS manufacturers.

     For the past three years, CAD received a total of 111 relevant permit applications, of which 84 applications were approved. Withdrawal of application or insufficient information provided were the main reasons for the disapproval of permit application. CAD has no record of violation of permit condition for the past three years.

     Generally speaking, after receiving reports on the reckless or illegal use of UAS, CAD will take follow-up actions which 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. In addition, CAD has been liaising with the Police and providing technical support to the Police in its enforcement action.

     A person who contravenes Regulation 22 of the Air Transport (Licensing of Air Services) Regulations, if convicted, will be liable to a fine up to $5 million and to imprisonment for up to two years.

Ends/Wednesday, April 20, 2016
Issued at HKT 14:00