Questions – Regulation and application of unmanned aircraft systems (Andrew Leung)

Following is a question by the Hon Andrew Leung and a reply by the Secretary for Transport and Housing, Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung, in the Legislative Council today (June 11):


With the technology of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) maturing gradually and miniaturisation of UAS, UAS have become increasingly versatile. On the civilian side, UAS can be used for leisure pursuits, aerial photography, search and rescue, etc. Regarding the regulation and application of UAS, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) as UAS may be used for aerial photography and video-recording, whether the authorities have reviewed if the existing legislation is adequate for protecting the privacy of the public against intrusion;

(2) given that at present, the Civil Aviation Department has issued general safety operational parameters only for UAS weighing 7 kilograms or more (without fuel), whether the authorities will consider drawing up such operational parameters for UAS weighing less than 7 kilograms; as UAS have become increasingly versatile (eg some major online stores and courier companies are exploring the use of UAS for delivery of goods), whether the authorities will amend the existing operational parameters so as to protect public safety; if they will, of the details and timetable; if not, the reasons for that; and

(3) apart from the Civil Engineering and Development Department deploying UAS for surveying work, whether other government departments such as the Hong Kong Observatory, the Fire Services Department and other disciplined forces have plans to bring in UAS for discharging their duties; if they do, of the reasons for that?



With the evolution of aviation technology, the use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) is becoming more popular and versatile. Apart from leisure pursuit by members of the public, UAS may also be used for aerial surveillance and photography, search and rescue, etc. UAS is classified as one kind of aircraft, and is governed by the civil aviation legislation. Any person operating UAS must comply with the relevant requirements.

My reply to the Hon Andrew Leung’s question is as follows:

(1) The Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance (Cap 486, Laws of Hong Kong) (PDPO) protects the privacy of personal data of the public. Under the PDPO, “personal data” is defined as any data from which it is practicable for the identity of a living individual to be ascertained and which is in a form in which access to or processing of the data is practicable. Any person who or any organisation which collects and uses the personal data of another person has to comply with the provisions of the PDPO, including the data protection principles therein.

Generally speaking, installing a video camera to capture the images of a person and storing the recorded footage for the purpose of ascertaining the identity of that person are acts of collecting and using “personal data”, and are subject to the provisions of the PDPO, including the data protection principles therein. Using UAS for capturing images is also regulated.

If a person contravenes a data protection principle, the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data may serve an enforcement notice on him, directing him to take remedial steps. Should he fail to comply with the enforcement notice, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data may refer the case to the Police for criminal prosecution.

(2) Articles 3 and 7 of the Air Navigation (Hong Kong) Order 1995 (Cap 448C, Laws of Hong Kong) (the Order) provide that an aircraft shall not fly unless it is issued with a Certificate of Registration and a Certificate of Airworthiness by the Civil Aviation Department (CAD) or the relevant aviation authority of that aircraft. Article 100 of the Order provides that an aircraft weighing not more than 7 kilograms (without fuel) is classified as a small aircraft. Members of the public who use this kind of small aircraft are not required to apply for a Certificate of Registration and a Certificate of Airworthiness from the CAD. This is generally in line with the practice of overseas countries such as the United Kingdom and Australia. Nonetheless, the operation of small aircraft is governed by Article 48 of the Order, which stipulates that a person shall not recklessly or negligently cause or permit an aircraft to endanger any person or property.

The CAD has published a guide entitled Safety in Radio-Controlled Model Aircraft Flying for the public’s reference. This safety guide applies to an UAS not exceeding 7 kilograms (without fuel) used for leisure flying. Members of the public are advised not to fly an UAS in the vicinity of an airport or aircraft approach and take-off paths. As to the sites of the operations of UAS, they should be clear of buildings, people and away from helicopter landing pads, and clear of any power sources such as power lines, transformer stations, pylons and transmitter towers which might cause radio interference. The site should also be free from visual obstruction, so that the operator can see his UAS in flight, thereby avoiding any collision that may cause injuries, fatalities or damage to property.

When an UAS is used for reward, such as in providing aerial photography service, the operator must comply with the requirement stipulated in Regulation 22 of the Air Transport (Licensing of Air Services) Regulations (Cap 448A, Laws of Hong Kong). Before operating an UAS, regardless of its size or weight, the operator must lodge an application with the CAD and he must abide by the conditions stipulated in the permit granted by the CAD in providing the service. In processing each application and stipulating the conditions, the CAD will take into account personal safety, property protection and airspace management. Generally speaking, in order not to endanger any person or property on the ground, an UAS is not allowed to fly over populated areas, to carry hazardous materials, or to drop any objects. From April 2013 to March 2014, the CAD has processed 20 applications for the use of UAS for commercial photography, mostly involving UAS not exceeding 7 kilograms. CAD has not received any application for using an UAS to deliver cargo.

The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) is now developing the regulatory framework in regard to the operations of UAS. The CAD will review the prevailing operational parameters in respect of UAS in light of the development of international regulatory requirements.

(3) The CAD has approved the Civil Engineering and Development Department and the Lands Department to use UAS, which will be used for land surveying; the Housing Department plans to use UAS for conducting preliminary land surveying in respect of a proposed public housing site. The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, with CAD’s approval, uses UAS to carry out ecological studies in country parks. Meanwhile, the Drainage Services Department intends to use UAS to inspect its sewage treatment facilities; and the Hong Kong Observatory is exploring the use of UAS in meteorological and radiation monitoring. As regards disciplinary forces, there is no plan to deploy UAS in discharging their duties at this stage.


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