Contributor: Dominic Lee
1. Are UAS considered as “aircraft” in your country?
Yes. Under section 3 of the Interpretation and General Clauses Ordinance, Cap. 1, aircraft are defined as “any machine that can derive support in the atmosphere from the reactions of the air.” This definition is wide and covers UAS.
2. Which bodies regulate the remotely-piloted and/or unmanned aircraft operations in your country, under what basic laws?
The Civil Aviation Department (“CAD”) regulates UAS operations. The laws relevant to UAS are the Air Transport (Licensing of Air Services) Regulations, Cap. 448A and the Air Navigation (Hong Kong) Order 1995, Cap. 448C.
3. Is there a distinction between “State UAS” and “Private UAS”?
There is no such distinction under the relevant laws.
4. Is there any distinction between public, leisure and commercial UAS? What regulations are provided for UAS operations in each group?
There is a distinction between leisure and commercial UAS.
For leisure UAS, no pre-approval from the CAD is required before a flight. Pre-approval from the CAD is required before a commercial UAS operates.
In flying UAS for leisure, operators are encouraged to follow, inter alia, the following guidelines issued by the CAD:
- The UAS shall not be flown over populated and congested areas.
- The UAS shall not be flown in the vicinity of an airport and aircraft approach and take-off paths.
- The altitude of operations shall not exceed 300 feet above ground level.
- The operations of a UAS shall be conducted during daylight hours only.
Operators flying commercial UAS are encouraged to follow, inter alia, the following general operation parameters issued by the CAD:
- The UAS shall not be flown within the Aerodrome Traffic Zone or within 5km of any aerodrome.
- The UAS shall not be flown over or within 50m of any person, vessel, vehicle or structure not under the control of the UAS operator; except during take-off and landing, the UAS must not be flown over or within 30m of any person other than the persons in charge of the UAS.
- The UAS operator shall be on site and keep the UAS within his visual line of sight during the period of the flight.
- No hazardous material may be carried nor objects be dropped from the UAS in order to avoid endangering persons or property on the ground.
- The altitude of UAS shall not exceed 300 feet above ground level.
- UAS operations shall be conducted during daylight hours only.
- The UAS operator shall have a hand-held anemometer to monitor surface wind speed on site.
- The UAS operator is required to seek approval from the Office of the Communications Authority on the use of radio frequencies and to ensure that no RFI (Radio Frequency Interference) is caused to air traffic operations and air navigation equipment.
5. Is there a distinction, in terms of regulation, between completely autonomous UAS and remotely-piloted UAS?
There is no such distinction.
Regulation of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (“UAS”) Operations - Safety
6. How are UAS operations regulated in terms of safety?
The only legal duty upon persons operating a s-UAS for leisure is the duty not to recklessly or negligently cause or permit an aircraft to endanger any person or property (Article 48 and Article 100, Cap. 448C). The maximum penalty in contravention of this duty is a fine of HKD5000 on summary conviction and a fine of HKD5000 and or imprisonment for 2 years on conviction on indictment (Article 91(6), Cap. 448C).
In addition, the operators are encouraged to follow the guidelines issued by the CAD, as elaborated in answer 4 above.
7. Is the applicable regulation considering the rule of 1 UAS = 1 pilot?
The rule is not specified in the relevant laws.
Regulation of Unmanned Aircraft Systems ("UAS") Operations - Licensing
8. What procedures are there to obtain licenses or the rights to operate UAS?
A person needs to obtain a permit before operating a commercial UAS, but not for operating a leisure UAS. To apply for a permit, a person will need to fill in the application forms on the CAD’s website (DCA 122A and e-DCA255), and provide supporting documents to the CAD at least 28 working days prior to the operation. The supporting documents include evidence of pilot competency, a copy of an insurance policy that appropriately insures the operator in respect of third-party risks which may be incurred, and an operations manual.
The operations manual should contain details of the operating company, technical description of UAS, operating limitations and conditions, flight team composition, flight procedures and emergency procedures etc. The CAD has issued guidance on how to write the operations manual.
For UAS weighing less than 7kg without its fuel, no certificates need to be obtained before its operation. For UAS weighing more than 7kg without its fuel, the operator needs to obtain a certificate of airworthiness (Article 7, Cap. 448C) and a certificate of registration (Article 3, Cap. 448C) before the UAS can fly in or above Hong Kong.
To apply for a certificate of registration, the applicant needs to fill in form DCA 99, and submit it to the CAD together with supporting documents and a cheque for the application fee. Only the following persons can apply for registration (Article 4(3), Cap. 448C):
- The Central People’s Government or the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region;
- Chinese citizens;
- permanent residents of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region;
- incorporated in Hong Kong or other parts of the People’s Republic of China or incorporated under the law of Hong Kong; and
- having their principal place of business in Hong Kong or in other parts of the People’s Republic of China.
To apply for a certificate of airworthiness, the applicant needs to fill in form DCA 46D, and submit it to the CAD with supporting documents and the application fee. The application fee is stipulated in the Schedule of the Hong Kong Air Navigation (Fees) Regulations (Cap 448D). In particular, the applicant needs to submit a recommendation from an approved organization for the issuance of a certificate of airworthiness. In Hong Kong, the requirements on becoming an approved organization (Organization Designation Approval) are governed by Hong Kong Aviation Requirements-183.
9. Are there any kind of taxes or fees regarding the licensing procedure?
An application fee needs to be paid when one applies for a certificate of airworthiness and a certificate of registration.
10. Is a Certificate of Airworthiness mandatory to operate a UAS?
See answer 8 above.
11. Is access to the market for the provision of UAS operation services regulated and, if so, how?
Not regulated at the moment.
12. What requirements apply in the areas of financial strength and nationality of ownership regarding control of UAS?
Not regulated at the moment.
13. Is drone transport permitted / regulated in your country?
There is currently no prohibition against drone transport in Hong Kong, subject to the limitations and restrictions elaborated above.
Regulation of Unmanned Aircraft Systems ("UAS") - Operations - Others
14. Is there a specific Data & Privacy Protection regulation applicable to UAS operations?
No. However, if the UAS comes with a recording function, the operator needs to be careful not to contravene, inter alia, the Mass Transit Railway By-laws, Cap. 556B and the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance, Cap. 486.
Under the Mass Transit Railway By-laws, no person shall at any time, while upon the railway premises, use any video recording equipment for taking videos without prior approval (Bylaw 28H(1)(e)). If a person contravenes this section, the person may be liable to a fine of HKD5000 on conviction (Schedule 2, Cap. 556B).
Under the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance, there are 6 data protection principles (Schedule 1, Cap. 486), namely:
- Data Collection Principle – Personal data must be collected in a lawful and fair way, for a purpose directly related to a function/activity of the data user. Data subjects must be notified of the purpose and the classes of persons to whom the data may be transferred. Data collected should be necessary but not excessive.
- Accuracy and Retention Principle – Practicable steps shall be taken to ensure personal data is accurate and not kept longer than is necessary to fulfil the purpose for which it is used.
- Data Use Principle – Personal data must be used for the purpose for which the data is collected or for a directly related purpose, unless voluntary and explicit consent with a new purpose is obtained from the data subject.
- Data Security Principle – A data user needs to take practicable steps to safeguard personal data from unauthorized or accidental access, processing, erasure, loss or use.
- Openness Principle – A data user must take practicable steps to make personal data policies and practices known to the public regarding the types of personal data it holds and how the data is used.
- Data Access and Correction Principle – A data subject must be given access to his/her personal data and allowed to make corrections if it is inaccurate.
In 2010, the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data (“the Commissioner”) published a Guidance Note on CCTV Surveillance and Use of Drones (“the Guidance Note”). The Guidance Note was revised in 2015 and 2017 respectively. In the Guidance Note, the Commissioner explained that users of UAS with a recording function should be careful not to breach the data protection principles. The Commissioner also suggested ways on responsible use of the UAS, including carefully planning the flight path, pre-defining the recording criteria, encrypt images if they are to be transmitted through wireless means, and be transparent about the operation of the UAS.
Although breaching a data collection principle does not constitute an offence directly, the Commissioner may serve an Enforcement Notice directing the data user to remedy the breach (s50, Cap. 486). If the data user fails to comply with the Enforcement Notice, he commits an offence, and the maximum penalty is a fine of HKD50, 000 and imprisonment for 2 years (s50A, Cap. 486).
15. Is there a specific control-link interference regulation applicable to UAS operations?
There are no specific regulations applicable to UAS operations. However, the CAD’s guidelines provide that for business UAS operations, the UAS operator is required to seek approval from the Office of the Communications Authority on the use of radio frequencies and to ensure that no RFI is caused to air traffic operations and air navigation equipment.
16. Do specific rules regulate UAS manufacturers?
17. What requirements must a foreign UAS operator satisfy in order to operate to or from your country?
No specific requirements.
18. Are fares or pricing of UAS operations regulated and, if so, how?
The Aircraft (“UAS”)
19. Must UAS be registered in any particular register?
A UAS weighing less than 7kg without its fuel need not be registered. A UAS weighing more than 7kg without its fuel needs to be registered, and a certificate of registration issued. For details, please refer to answer 8 above.
20. Who is entitled to be mentioned in the UAS register?
Persons owning a legal interest in the aircraft or a share of the aircraft are entitled to be mentioned in the register (Article 8(7)(e)(i), Cap. 448C).
21. Do requirements or limitations apply to the ownership of a UAS listed on your country’s register?
See answer 8 above. Only specified persons can apply for registration of an aircraft.
22. Do specific rules regulate the maintenance of UAS?
23. Which are the operational and distance limitations for an aerial work with a UAS? Is there any kind of certificate or permission to operate beyond those limitations?
Under the Airport Authority Bylaw (Cap 483A), UAS must not fly within the Bylaw area (all the Restricted Area, all that portion of the Airport Area no part of which is either in the Restricted Area or on any road or length of road; and all the designated roads).
Under the CAD’s guidelines and general operation parameters, UAS shall not normally be flown in the following areas:
- within the Aerodrome Traffic Zone
- within 5km of any aerodrome
- within the vicinity of an airport and aircraft approach and take-off paths, including
- Hong Kong International Airport;
- North Lantau coastal area;
- Coastal areas from Tai Lam Chung to Tsuen Wan and Tsing Yi Island;
- Victoria Harbour and its coastal areas; and
- Shek Kong area
There is no certificate/permission to operate in those restricted areas at the moment.
24. Are UAS obliged to take off from and/or land in specific facilities?
No. However, the CAD recommends that the take-off and landing sites should be flat to ensure safe take-off and landing.
25. Which kind of airspaces are UAS permitted to operate with?
The CAD recommends in its guidelines that the altitude of operations shall not exceed 300 feet above ground level.
26. Which airspaces are restricted for UAS?
There are no airspaces that only allow UAS operation.
There are areas where UAS are not allowed to operate in, as elaborated in answers 23 and 25 above.
27. Which zones are UAS operations banned?
See answer 23 above.
28. Who provides air traffic control services for UAS in your country?
The Civil Aviation Department provides air traffic control services in Hong Kong.
Liability and Accidents
29. Are there any special rules in respect of loss or damage to cargo?
There are no special rules targeted at drones in respect of loss or damage to cargo, save for the Warsaw Convention, the amended Warsaw Convention, the Montreal Convention, and the Guadalajara Convention as modified and adapted by the Carriage by Air Ordinance, Cap. 500.
30. Are there any special rules about the liability of UAS operators for surface damage?
See answer 29 above.
31. Is there a mandatory accident and incident reporting system and, if so, how does it operate?
In Hong Kong, the accident/incident reporting system is managed by the Accident Investigation Division (“AID”) of the CAD. The accident/incident reporting system is only applicable to aircraft registered in Hong Kong (Regulation 3 of the Hong Kong Civil Action (Investigation of Accidents) Regulations, Cap. 448B) (“the Regulations”). Therefore, this accident/incident reporting system is only applicable to registered UAS weighing more than 7kg (without its fuel).
There are two systems of reporting accidents in Hong Kong – the mandatory incident reporting system, and the voluntary incident reporting system.
Mandatory incident reporting system
The commander of the aircraft, or if the operator is killed or incapacitated, then the operator of the aircraft, and in the case of an accident occurring on or adjacent to an aerodrome, the aerodrome authority should report to the authority if a reportable accident occurs (Regulation 5, Cap. 448B). The reporter can make a call to the AID; or contact them by email or fax etc. The specified form for making a report is DCA 233.
A reportable accident refers to occurrences associated with the operation of an aircraft which takes place between the time when any person boards the aircraft with the intention of flight and such time as all persons have disembarked therefrom (Regulation 2, Cap. 448B).
Voluntary incident reporting system
If the accident is not serious, the UAS operators can still report such accident to AID in order to assist the AID in promoting accident prevention and enhancing aviation safety. In order to do so, the operator can fill in form DCA 234 and submit the same to the AID.
32. What system and procedures are in place for the investigation of UAS accidents?
After receiving a report under the mandatory incident reporting system or the voluntary incident reporting system, the AID will determine whether an investigation is required under the Regulations.
Under the Regulations, inspectors from the AID are empowered to carry out the following (Regulation 9, Cap. 448B):
- Call before him and examine persons, and require them to answer any questions or furnish information;
- To take statements from such persons;
- Have access to and examine any aircraft involved in an accident, and to require the aircraft/equipment be preserved unaltered pending investigation;
- Examine, remove, test, take measures to preserve, deal with the aircraft involved in the accident or other aircraft;
- Enter and inspect places/buildings and aircraft on production of his credentials, if required;
- Take measures for the preservation of evidence.
After the inspectors’ investigations, the inspectors shall produce a report, which will be sent to relevant persons, States and organizations, along with any safety recommendations. The details of how the report is to be released are set out in the CAD’s Accident Investigation Bulletin.
33. Are UAS operators obliged to have insurance for their operations? If so, which are their main features?
For commercial UAS operations, operators are required to insure the operator in respect of third-party risks which may be incurred.
34. What is insured? The operator, the business or the aircraft?
The operator is insured against third party risks.
Financial Support and State Aid
35. Are there sector-specific rules regulating direct or indirect financial support to companies by the government or government-controlled agencies or companies (state aid) in the UAS sector? If not, do general state aid rules apply?
There are no sector-specific rules regulating such support in the UAS sector at the moment.
36. What are the main principles of the stated aid rules applicable to the UAS sector?
37. Are there exemptions from the state aid rules or situations in which they do not apply?
38. Must clearance from the competition authorities be obtained before state aid may be granted?
As Hong Kong lacks a comprehensive legislation covering UAS operations, the CAD commissioned an overseas consultant in March 2017 to conduct a study on the regulation of UAS in Hong Kong. The overseas consultant submitted their report in March 2018 and made the following six recommendations:
- Set up a registration system for UAS above 250g;
- Establish a risk-based classification model for UAS operations, and develop different standards and requirements for each classification;
- Establish training and assessment requirements for UAS operators;
- Establish a drone map for UAS operators;
- Prescribe insurance requirements for UAS, based on the risk categories; and
- Study whether indoor operations of UAS should be regulated, and how.
The CAD launched a three-month public consultation in April 2018, inviting the public to express their views on the six recommendations above. It is expected that the law in this area will develop rapidly in Hong Kong.