What laws are there? Do I need a drone pilot license?
Drones, even small consumer-grade ones, can be quite a safety hazard; not only can they fall and hurt someone, their sharp, fast-spinning propellers can easily slice through an unlucky person’s fingers or other parts of the body. Drones also pose a risk to national security and privacy as their nature makes them great tools for spying, and have been involved in several high-profile incidents worldwide, such as shutting down Gatwick Airport in England for 36 hours, leading to roughly 1000 flights being affected, and crashing in the compound of the USA’s White House.
In Malaysia, all matters relating to aircraft are managed by the Civil Aviation Authority of Malaysia (CAAM). Under Malaysian regulations, we do not have drone operator licenses yet, as their implementation is still a work in progress. However, there are drone operating permits that need to be obtained from CAAM, depending on what you want to do with drones.
CAAM divides drones, or Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), into three categories:
-Small unmanned aircraft system (sUAS)
-Small unmanned surveillance aircraft
-Unmanned aircraft system of more than 20kg
“Small unmanned aircraft system” refers to an unmanned aircraft that weighs 20kg or less without fuel, while “small unmanned surveillance aircraft” is a small unmanned aircraft which is equipped to undertake any form of surveillance or data acquisition. With how broad this definition is, any drone with a camera would fall under this latter category.
You will need to apply for a permit if you meet any of these conditions:
-You are using your drone for aerial work purposes such as mapping, surveying, inspection, or crop spraying
-Your drone weighs over 20kg without fuel, in which case you must also register your drone, and you must have a Private Pilot Licence or a Commercial Pilot Licence.
-You intend to fly in restricted areas, which will be discussed below.
Without permission from the Director General of CAAM, no drone may be flown:
-in Class A, B, C or G airspace
-within an aerodrome traffic zone
-at the height of more than 400 feet (~122 metres) above the surface of the earth
Since the airspaces mentioned above are only found near airports at low altitudes, drone operators should not fly their drones within 5km of any airport.
In addition to the above, several locations in Malaysia have been declared as no-fly zones for security purposes, such as Putrajaya, Kuala Lumpur City Centre (KLCC), the Parliament, and Istana Negara. Any other government location that is not open to the public can also be considered as no-fly zones, these include police stations, prisons, government offices, and military bases.
Other places where we would not recommend drone operators to fly are locations where emergency services are present such as hospitals and fire stations, as well as places where emergency personnel are working, such as a crime scene or accident scene. If you fly your drone too close to them, you may get in the way of their duties and land in legal hot water under Section 186 of the Penal Code.
You may also check services such as Airmap (https://app.airmap.io) and DJI GEO Zone Map (https://www.dji.com/flysafe/geo-map) to check for no-fly zones prior to flying. Take note, however, that these maps do not necessarily show all no-fly zones, such as the ones listed above.
Small unmanned surveillance aircraft, which pretty much means any drone with a camera, have extra airspace restrictions. Without a permit, they cannot be flown:
-within 150 metres of any area which is used for residential, commercial, industrial or recreational purposes.
-within 150 metres of any assembly in the open air of more than 1,000 persons;
-within 50 metres of any vessel, vehicle or structure which is not under the control of the person in charge of the aircraft;
-within 50 metres of any person, or
-within 30 metres of any person during take-off or landing.
Even if you are cleared to fly your drone, it doesn’t mean you can fly them however you want. These rules must be followed:
-The pilot must maintain direct, unaided visual contact with the drone at all times. This means that you must be able to see your drone and where it is going, so that you can make sure that the area surrounding your drone is safe and free of obstacles.
-The pilot must be satisfied that the flight can be safely made. Basically, make sure that your drone is in good condition (Are your batteries fully charged? Are the propellers secured and free of defects?), and that conditions are right for flying (Is the weather clear? Are there strong winds? Are there many people or birds around?).
How do I apply for a permit?
Before you even begin to apply for your permit from CAAM, you first need to get permission from the landowner whose area you intend to fly over. You may also need to get the documents as listed below, depending on your circumstances:
-An approval letter from JUPEM, or Jabatan Ukur dan Pemetaan Malaysia, which is required for all drone activities relating to aerial mapping, aerial photography, filming and videography activities. The application cost for this is RM 50.
-An approval letter from CGSO, or the Chief Government Security Office for flying in no-fly zones such as Putrajaya.
-An approval letter from the Chief Minister of Sabah or Sarawak, depending on which state you will be flying in.
-An approval letter from MCMC, or Malaysia Communications and Multimedia Commission for foreign drone pilots.
Note that your application to CAAM must be submitted at least 14 working days before your planned flight date, otherwise your application will be rejected.
Applying for a permit also costs money, the fees are as follows:
-For drones 20kg and below: RM 250
-For drones above 20kg: RM 1000
The permit is only effective for up to 3 months, depending on the dates of operation that you specify in your application.
To use drones for aerial work, you will also need to apply for an aerial work certificate, which must be renewed yearly:
-New application: RM 800
-Renewal of aerial work certificate: RM 500 per year
-Modification of existing certificate: RM 250
Drones for consumers is still a new industry, and every country has wildly differing laws regarding them. While many countries allow people to fly drones without permits for now, some such as Thailand and Vietnam require a permit or registration of some kind for all drone flights, others like Sri Lanka and Brunei ban drones entirely, and then there are countries that haven’t even established any laws regarding drones. As the drone industry continues to gain traction, expect laws surrounding them to change as well. As responsible and professional drone operators, we have to be aware of the latest rules and regulations to ensure efficient, safe and legal drone flights.