From recreational to commercial use, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones as they are commonly known, are growing rapidly in popularity the world over. They also are becoming increasingly advanced with the use of more complex technology.

UAVs are already used by the media and those involved in film and television production. The video capture capabilities of UAVs are also being utilized for a variety of other commercial and industrial purposes, including aerial surveys for real estate, insurance, agricultural and infrastructure related companies. The potential use of such equipment in autonomous logistics, including general parcel or package delivery, has also been widely reported.

In order to keep pace with their popularity and ever more advanced technology, a number of countries have recently enacted laws and regulations related to the responsible use of UAVs. On 27 August 2015, new regulation related to the use of drones in Thailand was published in the Government Gazette with it taking effect the following day.

New Regulations

The Minister of Transportation enacted a new Notification of the Ministry of Transportation Re Rules to Apply for License and Conditions to Control and Launch the Unmanned Airborne Vehicles, Type Outside Controlled Airborne Vehicles  B.E. 2558 (A.D. 2015) ("Notification"), which was announced in the Government Gazette on 27 August 2015 and became effective on 28 August 2015. The Notification provides that an individual launching a UAV without first obtaining the appropriate license is subject to imprisonment for a term up to one year and/or a fine up to THB 40,000 (approx. USD 1,100) pursuant to the Air Navigation Act B.E. 2497 (A.D. 1954).

The Notification categorizes UAVs, or drones, into two categories depending on the purpose of use:

1. For the purpose of recreation (e.g. as a hobby, entertainment or sport)

a) Weight of not more than 2 kg:

A license is not required for controlling or launching the UAV, however, the controller or launcher must be older than 18 years of age and must comply with the provided terms in the Notification. This comprises, among others, that they do not fly the UAV over 90 meters (300 feet) above the ground; do not fly within 30 meters (100 feet) of people, vehicles, construction sites, or buildings; and do not infringe on the privacy of others.

b) Weight of more than 2 kg but not exceeding 25 kg:

The controller or launcher of the UAV must be older than 20 years of age, not be a person who acts against national security, must never have been imprisoned under the laws on narcotics or Customs, and must have applied for a license to be a controller or launcher of the UAV from the Ministry of Transportation. The controller or launcher must comply with the provided terms in the Notification, namely, among others, that they do not fly over 90 meters (300 feet) above the ground; do not fly within 50 meters (150 feet) of people, vehicles, construction sites, or buildings; and do not infringe on the privacy of others.

2. For purposes other than (1) where its weight does not exceed 25 kg

a) For reporting incidents or traffic-related matters (i.e. mass media),

b) For photographing or filming,

c) For research and development of airborne vehicles,

d) For other purposes:

The controller or launcher must be a business operator in a related category (i.e. mass media, film production) and must apply for a license to be a controller or launcher of the UAV from the Ministry of Transportation. The controller or launcher must comply with the provided terms in the Notification which apply to the UAV for the purpose of recreation (e.g. as a hobby, entertainment or sport) where its weight is more than 2 kg but not exceeding 25 kg.

Although the Notification became effective on 28 August 2015, the readiness of authorities to deal with procedures in regard to the issuance of licenses is lacking. To date, there are no clear instructions for prospective applicants to follow, nor are there any internal policies or guidelines governing the procedures in which to examine license applicants.

It is expected that internal guidelines which detail these procedures, as well as setting out clear time frames and definitions of the terms used in the Notification, will be issued in the near future.