SCMP Publishes Our Response to Calls for Regulations

The SCMP today published a letter from Nick Foxall, Team Leader at dronesurvey.HK in response to the SCMP’s own May 17th Op Ed on the need for regulation of drone usage in Hong Kong.

While we generally agree that some form of regulation or guidelines are desirable to govern the responsible use of drones by all (recreational and professional alike), we caution against over-regulation and the danger that the burgeoning professional drone industry in Hong Kong will be killed before it gets off the ground (literally!).

Here’s a link to the letter on the SCMP website (which is slightly edited for space), or you can read the full text below:

 

I refer to your editorial “Clear guidelines needed to regulate drones”. Whilst I agree that some regulation over the responsible use of drones is desirable, I caution against over-reaction, and over-regulation.

Yes, drones flown “for recreational purposes only” are considered model aircraft by the Civil Aviation Department (CAD) and do not need approval. But, just as at ground level, Hong Kong’s airspace is crowded, and as drones become cheaper, easier to use, and more accessible, more of them will be heading for the skies. So some form of regulation or control is probably needed.

To be fair, the CAD already has clear guidelines in place for the safe use of drones (http://www.cad.gov.hk/english/Unmanned_Aircraft_Systems.html) and for any commercial operation involving drones – what they term “for hire or reward” – CAD permission is required.

Operators must also show “evidence of pilot competency” – in other words, a drone pilot qualification. Right now, CAD accepts the British Basic National UAS Certificate (BNUC-S), which has been operating since 2011, and there is now a BNUC-S trainer and examiner in Hong Kong. Already, some 50 people here have taken the BNUC-S drone theory course, and more than 20 (including myself) have gone on to complete a rigorous flight exam, and become fully qualified BNUC-S drone pilots.

All this is foundation, because the flip side to the “threat” of drones is the burgeoning growth in commercial drone applications across an expanding number of fields.

Drone-based aerial video and film is already well established, but there are growing applications in land surveying, mapping, construction site monitoring, agricultural vegetation and soil analysis (with similar applications for environmental protection), search & rescue, and structural inspection.

It worth remembering that DJI – the world’s largest drone manufacturer with an estimated valuation of US$10 billion – is just across the border in Shenzhen. DJI is now a global household name, but its roots began in Hong Kong: its founders were all graduates of UST.

There are also new sports / entertainment opportunities with drones. The growing sport of drone racing, and the recent World Drone Prix in Dubai have garnered world attention. The World Drone Prix included a custom-built course, and US$1 million in prize money. Given that Hong Kong will be hosting its first Formula-E Grand Prix later this year, a Drone Grand Prix around the waterfront, or around (and through) some old industrial buildings would fit right in.

If Hong Kong – and the Government – is serious about developing new technologies, new industries, and new attractions, let’s not kill this goose with “cross-departmental efforts” and consequent over-regulation, before its had time to take off (vertically).

Nick Foxall
Shek Kip Mei