Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) or ‘drone’ operations are currently attracting considerable regulatory focus as well as public attention, in light of well publicised events such as the forced closure of London’s Gatwick Airport in December owing to reported drone activities. There have also been a number of near misses between drones and aircraft in flight.
In reaction to the events in London, questions have been raised about whether a similar shutdown of Hong Kong’s Airport could arise due to drone operations. Whilst the Airport is equipped with certain drone detection systems, and some drone manufacturers include geo-fencing software in their products to prevent drone incursion over the restricted area around the Airport, both the Airport Authority and Hong Kong’s Civil Aviation Department (CAD) are examining steps taken by other international airports in order to enhance the Airport’s ability to monitor drone activity and to prevent any adverse impact on the airport’s operations.
So far there has only been one reported prosecution, in July 2017, for illegal operation of a drone within Hong Kong Airport’s restricted area. The offender was subsequently convicted of “causing or permitting an aircraft to endanger any person or property" under the Air Navigation (Hong Kong) Order 1995 and was fined HK$2,000 (c. £200).
As we reported in July 2018 (“Hong Kong Prepares for a Drone Invasion"), the CAD has been reviewing the regulation of drones generally, with a view to accommodating the technological development and the diversified uses of drones.
Following a consultancy study commissioned by the CAD on the regulation of drones, the CAD held a three-month public consultation on potential regulations. Since the consultation exercise ended in July 2018, the CAD has been drawing up detailed proposals for an enhanced regulatory regime, taking into account the recommendations of the consultancy study and the views gathered during the public consultation. The proposals include setting up a registration system, specifying the training requirement for operating different categories of drone, providing drone maps and prescribing insurance requirements.
The CAD’s plan is to consult the Hong Kong Government on the legislative proposal in the second quarter of 2019, and to develop a strategic framework of implementation measures for both the short-term (up to 2020) and the medium to long-term (from 2020 onwards). In formulating recommended measures, the CAD intends to take into account not only the feasibility of any potential regulations, but also "priority and resource requirements". Despite that rather unclear wording, we would hope that any new legislation encourages, rather than stifles, the use of drones in Hong Kong, whilst at the same time providing the necessary protections for aircraft, privacy and public safety.