‘Time to update drone laws’

  • Drones
  • Tuesday, 26 Nov 2019

PETALING JAYA: The surging popularity of drones must be met with clearer regulations and more extensive training courses for new pilots, says the Malaysia Unmanned Drones Activist Society (Mudas).

Its executive secretary William Alvisse said there was an urgent need to update drone laws, urging for more clarity between the commercial, academic and recreational drone operators.

“Each area is operating in different ways and hopefully, there will be more detailed rules and less ambivalence in the industry and community to adhere to, ” he said.

“Sometimes the ambiguity causes uncertainty and leaves too much room for interpretation.”

Drones have increasingly made headlines as a nuisance, with errant pilots flying in restricted areas such as airports and busy events.

Back in June, AFP reported that drones were sighted near Singapore’s Changi Airport twice in a week, forcing the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore to delay and divert flights to the bustling airport.

Caution is key: Alvisse strongly advocates  safe flying to take care of the industry’s reputation. Caution is key: Alvisse strongly advocates safe flying to take care of the industry’s reputation.

Last December, London’s Gatwick Airport had flights grounded for 36 hours due to repeated drone sightings, stranding tens of thousands of passengers.

In Malaysia, a drone user caused a furore in 2015, when the person posted multiple photos of airplanes approaching the KLIA runaway in Sepang.

The Royal Malaysia Police (PDRM) has also started deploying anti-drone guns capable of disrupting a drone from a distance of up to 1km.

The devices were seen deployed during football matches, the Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace (Lima) exhibition and at the coronation of Yang Di-Pertuan Agong.

Alvisse said the Civil Aviation Regulations (CAR) 2016 mostly focused on safe flying distances – for instance, how high it can fly or how close it’s allowed near people – but this needs to be expanded.

Currently, drones must maintain a 50m distance from people, vehicles and structures; a 150m distance from a gathering of more than 1,000 people; and a 30m distance from people when taking off or landing.

Some of the rules listed are no-fly zones for drones, including airports and government facilities, requirement for authorisation before flying, and a restriction against flying drones above 20kg without an explicit written permission from the authorities.

Civil Aviation Authority of Malaysia (CAAM) board member Afzal Abdul Rahim too was recently reported as saying that the authority needed to update its aviation regulations to govern the flying of drones.

Alvisse claimed that Mudas had already approached CAAM to discuss revising CAR 2016: Part XVI Regulations 140 to 144 which covers drones, and was told the authority was already looking into updating the three-year-old law though no specifics were given.

Mudas has collaborated with the National Occupational Skills and Standards (NOSS) Malaysia to develop a drone piloting course for professionals.

The course, recognised by NOSS as a Malaysian Skills Certificate (SKM), was completed in July and is ready to be adopted by vocational schools or training institutes.

However, Alvisse said it had to be personalised by the schools into a “Written Instructional Manual”, just like how driving schools adapt a government accepted curriculum into a training and testing course.

The training is divided into three levels. The first and second levels include training for two and multi-rotor drones like quadcopters and require 1,200 hours of training over several months.

The third level which is for fixed wing drones – which usually can fly higher and longer – and mission commander training which, among others, teaches users about programming the flight of autonomous drone. This requires an additional 1,200 hours of training.

“There cannot be shortcuts. People think flying a drone is simple, but if anything happens it can cause a tragedy, ” said Alvisse.

“If becoming a chef or mechanic needs so many hours of training, why shouldn’t they have a long period of training for drone pilots?”

As to hobbyist pilots, he said one of the issues was that most models were “plug and play” so most users fly the drones without even knowing there were rules governing drones.

“No schools have adopted the NOSS course yet, ” said Alvisse, adding that there were more than 20 drone training centres offering pilot training based on foreign programmes that includes basics on flying drones safely.

However, these trainings have not been endorsed by CAAM.

In order to be endorsed by CAAM, the training centres have to send relevant training documents to be reviewed by the authority, said Mudas deputy president Md Noor bin Rahim.

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