Qualified UAS Pilot, Stuart P. Sharpless, reached out to us after seeing a video we posted started to speed around social media. After a very informative phone call regarding drone safety issues, certifications, and illegal flights, we asked him to write up his thoughts so we could all learn more about the legalities of unmanned flights in Hong Kong.
Taking flight has been one of the most amazing things that I have done in my life. I have had my fair share of experiences, from flying with former military pilots dropping me on mountain-tops, guiding “Heli-Ski” trips, Search & Rescue work, to earning official certification to piloting a range of UAS aircraft.
One thing that has remained at the forefront of my mind throughout, is that skilled piloting doesn’t come easily, but as a result of lots of hard work and diligent study and practice.
The word “drone” has become a real buzzword in the media recently, and there are videos of drone-users popping up all over the internet. Some show incredible footage from truly creative UAS professionals that have taken great effort to secure permissions to fly and operate safely and responsibly. Most however are far more reckless and dangerous and are great causes of concern for regulators and for the companies that are trying to professionalise this young and exciting industry.
Rules and regulations are put into place for a reason, and are ultimately designed to protect us all. With the current ease of access to new drone technology, it is with growing concern that I see so many people just grabbing their craft of choice from store shelves and taking to the skies without proper training. Living in Hong Kong but operating throughout Asia, I see so many issues with people doing things irresponsibly, and it is only a matter of time before someone will get seriously injured.
Hong Kong has very limited space with lots of air traffic. The Civil Aviation Department (CAD) tries its best to monitor and manage the air space and has created a number of aviation laws for flying both Remote Controlled Model Aircraft (RC) and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV). Both could be classed as “drones” but each has very different guidelines, with the overriding principle focused on safety for users, the public and property.
One common misconception is that if a UAS aircraft is small then the rules don’t apply. I am often asked by filming clients that “if we use an aircraft under 7kg, do we still need to apply for a permit with the CAD?”
The answer is yes, we do. Any flight that takes place for renumeration needs to gain a permit from the CAD, irrespective of the size of the UAS.
The application process for a CAD permit can be a little daunting at first, with operating manuals, flight paths and insurance documents to prepare. But once you have done it the first time, the process becomes increasingly fast and straightforward, and in my experience the CAD have been very helpful and communicative.
Here is one recent video of a UAS flight that has caused concern in the industry:
This video is certainly eye-catching, but it raises many questions regarding safety. The pilot who posted the video explains in their comments the steps that they took to fly safely, but there are many issues that would concern an experienced professional operator, and many of the shots in this video would probably not have been granted permission by a regulator. Amongst other things, the UAS is flying above densely populated areas that cannot be managed or controlled by the piloting team, and the flight path of the UAS would have made it almost impossible to maintain a safe “line-of-sight” between pilot and aircraft.
For new aspiring hobby pilots there are many places in Hong Kong where it is possible to receive training from professionals and then practice in a legally-approved environment.
A great place to start and the only current CAD approved model aircraft airfield in Hong Kong. Very experienced people and highly recommended.
This is predominantly for glider aircraft enthusiasts. The group here usually fly at Clearwater Bay, along the road, near to the Golf Club entrance.
If you are looking to fly professionally then be prepared to work hard to gain the experience needed to obtain the qualifications that can help you reach the next level. Professional level aircraft are generally much more complex than hobby aircraft and require a higher level of technical ability for flying and for maintenance. One of the best qualifications on offer currently is the Euro USC programme in the UK, starting with a qualification in “ground school” and then moving onto doing a flight test on your chosen aircraft; the same requirements as needed for a Private Pilot License (PPL). After going through this qualification process myself I can definitely attest to its value, and the experience it offers.
The drone industry is really exciting to be involved with and is growing fast. My hope is that it can continue to excite and to continue to grow, but for that to happen it really needs pilots of all levels of experience to respect the rules and put safety before showmanship.