LCQ18: Unmanned aircraft systems
Some members of the public have relayed that in recent years, the craze for using unmanned aircraft systems (UASs), particularly for aerial photography, has been in the ascendant. It has been reported that it has become increasingly common for both public and private organisations to make use of UASs in their operations. For example, the Hong Kong and China Gas Company Limited makes use of UASs to inspect gas pipes, and some logistics companies are also exploring the use of UASs to deliver parcels. With the continued increase in size and travelling speed of UASs, and the great variance in the skills in operating UASs, there are reports from time to time that accidents involving UASs used for aerial photography have resulted in injuries and damages to property (e.g. during the Formula E Hong Kong e-Prix held early this month, a UAS fell within the precincts of the venue and a person was injured when dodging to avoid the falling UAS). That situation, coupled with reports of intrusion on privacy by aerial photography, has resulted in an incessant rise in the number of relevant complaints. As such, some members of the public consider that the Government should step up the regulation on the use of UASs for aerial photography and on the procurement of third party risks insurance for related activities. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) of the details of the use of UASs for aerial photography by various government departments and public organisations (including the number and models of UASs, as well as the qualifications possessed and the techniques employed by the UAS operators);
(2) of the number of cases received by the authorities since 2015 in which accidents involving UASs used for aerial photography resulted in injuries or damages to property; whether the number of such cases has shown an upward trend;
(3) of the existing policy and legislation that regulate the use of UASs for aerial photography, such as the safety and privacy protection measures required to be taken by UAS operators and issues relating to the third party risks insurance for aerial photography underwritten by insurance companies (including the coverage, the items that are not covered and the minimum amount of compensation); whether the Government will review the relevant policy and legislation to make them stay abreast of the latest developments;
(4) whether it knows the number of cases of third party risks insurance for aerial photography underwritten by insurance companies in the past two years; whether it knows the respective numbers of complaints about insurance for aerial photography received by the Consumer Council, the Insurance Authority (or formerly the Office of the Commissioner of Insurance) and the Hong Kong Federation of Insurers since 2015; and
(5) whether it knows the channels through which the person who sustained injuries in the aforesaid incident concerning a UAS fallen during the prix may seek compensation?
In Hong Kong, unmanned aircraft systems (UASs) are classified as aircraft and are governed, as far as aviation safety is concerned, by the civil aviation legislation. The Civil Aviation Department (CAD) is committed to ensuring aviation safety, including UAS operations, such that these operations are performed in compliance with flight safety rules.
According to the prevailing laws, any operator of UASs, regardless of the weight of aircraft, must observe Article 48 of the Air Navigation (Hong Kong) Order 1995 (Cap. 448C). Under this provision, a person shall not recklessly or negligently cause or permit an aircraft to endanger any person or property. Articles 3, 7 and 100 of Cap. 448C also provide that an aircraft weighing above 7 kilograms (without fuel) can only fly if it has a Certificate of Registration and a Certificate of Airworthiness issued by the CAD. Furthermore, Regulation 22 of the Air Transport (Licensing of Air Services) Regulations (Cap. 448A) requires that any person using an UAS of any weight for hire or reward must lodge an application with the CAD before operations, and he/she must abide by the conditions of issue of the permit granted by the CAD. Apart from operating in a safe manner in accordance with the applicable civil aviation legislation, operators must also observe other relevant laws of Hong Kong, such as the Telecommunications Ordinance (Cap. 106) and the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance (Cap. 486).
To assist the Government in reviewing the appropriateness and effectiveness of the existing statutory requirements, and in exploring ways to refine the prevailing regulatory regime with a view to accommodating the technological development and diversified uses of UAS while further safeguarding public safety, CAD commissioned an overseas consultant in March this year to conduct a study on the regulation of UAS. The objectives of the consultancy study are: to comprehend the regulatory requirements of overseas civil aviation authorities and the International Civil Aviation Organisation; and to provide feasible recommendations to the CAD on the requirements and approach to the regulation of UAS, in consideration of the local circumstances, technological development of UAS, and views of operators holding UAS permits issued by the CAD, UAS manufacturers, unmanned or model aircraft associations, airlines representatives and government bureaux/departments, etc. The CAD also requested the consultant to provide recommendations that can strike a reasonable balance between facilitating the use of UAS by the public and protecting public safety.
The consultant commissioned by the CAD has largely completed the study and planned to finalise the report at the end of this year. The CAD will, together with the Transport and Housing Bureau (THB) and other relevant policy bureaux and departments, study the recommendations of the consultant in-depth, and put forward a regulatory proposal for UAS operations that suits local environment and circumstances well with due regard to the unique circumstances of Hong Kong and relevant policies and resources involved. The CAD will consult the public on the key directions recommended by the consultant. The CAD's current plan is to commence public consultation in the first quarter of 2018 which shall be completed by mid-2018.
At the same time, the CAD will continue to strengthen its publicity and educational efforts through different channels, including its website, other relevant websites and publications, so as to raise the safety awareness of the relevant sectors and organisations, as well as the general public, about the operations of UASs. From May 2017 onwards, the CAD made use of the television and radio to promote safety guidelines on UAS.
My reply to the specific parts of the Hon Paul Tse's question is as follows.
(1) According to the prevailing laws, if a person uses an UAS weighing less than 7 kilograms (without fuel) and not for hire or reward, he/she is not required to lodge an application with CAD before operations. At present, UASs have been used by various government departments to perform their duties, and their operations must also observe the applicable statutory requirements. Some of these departments may seek CAD for advice from the aviation safety perspective, which includes vetting of their operations manual, pilot competency, operational procedures, and making safety recommendations. Besides, government departments should also observe CAD's safety guidelines on UAS when conducting their UAS operations (www.cad.gov.hk/english/Unmanned_Aircraft_Systems.html).
(2) The CAD has not received any case of UAS activities that resulted in injuries or damages to property. The Police also does not maintain relevant figures.
(3) As mentioned above, apart from operating in accordance with the applicable civil aviation legislation and CAD's safety guidelines, UAS operators must also observe other relevant laws of Hong Kong, such as the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance (Cap. 486).
With regard to the third party risks insurance for aerial photography underwritten by insurance companies, UAS operators currently applying for permits to use UAS for commercial purposes are required by the CAD to purchase third-party insurance for every single operation.
During the study, CAD's consultant noted the feedback from the public that it is not easy to purchase insurance for UAS operations in Hong Kong, as well as the diverging views on requirements of insurance coverage among different types of UAS operators. In view of the fact that potential risks may be posed to the public or other airspace users (e.g. manned aircraft for civil aviation purpose) by certain UAS operations, the consultant proposed that UAS operations of higher risk, whether for commercial or non-commercial use, must be covered by insurance. As for UAS operations of lower risk, the consultant does not see any practical need for mandating operators to purchase third-party insurance. It is expected that, with the increasing use of UAS, operators may purchase insurance on a voluntary basis in order to secure insurance coverage. After the public consultation, CAD and relevant policy bureaux/departments will consider the proposal.
(4) The Insurance Authority (or its predecessor, the Office of the Commissioner of Insurance) does not have the number of third party risks insurance for aerial photography underwritten by insurance companies in the past three years, and does not maintain the relevant complaints statistics.
The Consumer Council and the Hong Kong Federation of Insurers have not received any complaint on insurance for aerial photography in the past three years.
(5) The CAD does not have information about the aforesaid incident. The channels for seeking compensations depend on circumstances. Generally speaking, the injured should seek legal advice with regard to the specific circumstances of the case to consider the actions to be taken.
Ends/Wednesday, December 13, 2017
Issued at HKT 16:00
Issued at HKT 16:00