Controls on drones must be flexible, up to date

opinion January 14, 2019 01:00

By The Naton

Thailand now has in place measures to guard against accident and injury, but the technology is improving and spreading fast



Thailand this past autumn introduced measures to control airborne drones, which are increasingly in use for recreational and commercial purposes. But few citizens are as yet aware of the requirements and responsibilities attached to these unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). More needs to be done to educate the public and, in the meantime, state agencies will have to be on their toes.

Concerned about the risks posed by drones to individuals on the ground and to aircraft, the government in October unveiled a set of regulations covering their recreational, scientific and commercial use. The machines must now be registered. The rules are welcome, but they must be consistently enforced as well as fluid. With the technology steadily improving, countries far more technologically advanced than Thailand have had to repeatedly update their UAV legislation.

Britain, for example, has just announced measures that include giving the police increased powers to halt and prevent the misuse of drones and imposing tighter controls on ownership. The moves came after London’s Gatwick Airport was shut down for three days over the busy Christmas period as its runways were buzzed  by drones, threatening the safety of aircraft in flight. The United States has federal laws on drone use and many states have imposed additional controls, reflecting the reality that usage varies from place to place.

Canada strictly prohibits drones near airports and at scenes of emergencies and is on the lookout for “drunk droning”. Flying drones while intoxicated is not as yet a major issue anywhere, but only because so few people actually own drones. It’s easy to imagine the problems that could ensue, though, particularly in countries like Thailand where drunk drivers routinely ply the roads.

Thailand now has designated zones where drone flights are allowed and has specified times of day and safe distances from buildings, people and vehicles. They can’t be flown within nine kilometres of an airport, or after dusk. Foreigners wishing to send up a drone must first contact the Civil Aviation Authority and National Broadcasting Telecommunications Commission. Anyone using drones for commercial purposes has additional legal steps to manoeuvre.

Thousands of Thais have reportedly already registered drones. That is in fact a relatively low number, which is blamed on the cost of doing so, but the figure will certainly rise, as it has in other nations. Anyone can buy a drone in almost any department store. Several deadlines for registration have come and gone, but controlling drone use will be a never-ending job for legislators and law enforcers. 

More and more travellers are packing UAVs among their luggage. There can be no denying the potential that drones hold for innovators and entrepreneurs. There’s no denying the potential for fun they hold for youngsters and adventurers either. Kids have demonstrated remarkable skill in their use in games and sports, but of course, when children get attached to a machine that could cause accident or injury, that’s when the adults have to do some serious thinking.

Despite the benefits and possibilities, the risks associated with drones are very real, and we’ve only just begun to get familiar with the machines. People are buying them every day without the requisite safety awareness or conscientiousness. Our legislators cannot be lackadaisical about the potential danger. The measures already introduced are sound, but keeping abreast of advances in the technology and changes in use will be essential. Matters could become very complicated very fast.