Drones and drone services are becoming quite popular in Malaysia. You can get your hands on a decent model for as little as RM200, and there are even drone racing championships that skilled pilots can participate in.
Because they’ve become more common, there are now regulations that deal with the drone industry. It’s especially important that you know your way around the relevant rules if you’re training to become a pilot.
Here are several regulations you should be aware of.
Drones fall under three categories
In Malaysia, there are three categories of drones to take note of:
- Small Unmanned Aircraft System: Drones weighing up to 20 kilograms
- Small Unmanned Surveillance Aircraft: Drones weighing up to 20 kilograms that are fitted with equipment for data acquisition (e.g. cameras and microphones).
- Unmanned Aircraft System Of More Than 20kg: All other drones that weigh more than 20 kg
Different category-based regulations apply to different types of UAVs. The usual camera drones, such as the DJI Mavic Pro or the DJI Phantom 4, fall into the second class.
You now might need a permit to fly drones
The Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) is in charge of regulating aviation activities for aeroplanes, helicopters and other flying vehicles. They announced that you will need a permit if you want to fly drones. This permit rule can be found in the Civil Aviation Regulations 2016: Section 140-144.
You need certain documentation to obtain a flight permit. Among other items, you’ll need to present training evidence and the landowners ‘ declaration of consent for wherever it is you intend to fly your drone.
The Department of Civil Aviation must issue permits for commercial flights. The first year’s license costs 800 RM. The license extension costs RM 500 per year. If you do need to apply for a permit, you automatically become a holder of the Private Pilots’ License (PPL), which means that you are technically a holder of a pilot’s license.
Basic limitations for common drones
Drones that fall within the category of Small Unmanned Surveillance Aircraft do not require further permission, as long as the following manoeuvres are not carried out:
- Drone flights over specific areas (residential, commercial, industrial and recreational areas)
- Flights within 150 meters of each designated area
- Flights over more than 1,000 people in the outdoors
- Flights within 150 meters of each outdoor gathering of more than 1000 people
- Flights within 50 meters of any vessel, vehicle or structure not controlled by the person in charge of the aircraft
- Flights within 50 meters of each person
- Flights within 30 meters of each person during takeoff or landing
If you intend to do any of these things, you will need a Civil Aviation Department (DCA) permit. The license would cost about RM 250.
Companies can get fined for illegal drone use
Companies illegally flying drones face a fine of up to RM100,000 and their officers can be jailed for six months, or both.
It also usually takes about two weeks for the Survey and Mapping Department of Malaysia (Jupem) and the Malaysian Civil Aviation Authority (CAAM) to issue permits.
Large companies might have to answer to more stringent regulations than individual owners. Pilots under companies could possibly have to undergo a programme in collaboration with a recognized training body that has been vetted by the right authorities.
Some drones might need multiple redundancies for certain components like propulsion, IMU (inertial measurement unit) and GPS. This is to help ensure that if the rotors of proximity sensors of a drone cease functioning, the drone’s abilities will still not be totally compromised.
Take note of the time and weather conditions
Drone pilots must also be aware of things like weather conditions before flying. You’re not allowed to fly unless weather conditions are good. In addition, you should only fly during daylight hours.
Heavier drones are prone to needing permit requirements
According to the Civil Aviation Regulations, before takeoff, you only need to apply for a permit for drones that are more than 20kg. Most recreational flyers don’t use drones that are above 20kg, so popular models like the DJI Phantom (1.4kg) or the Parrot Bebop (0.5kg) should be ok to use.
There are “drone-free” zones
Many countries have proclaimed “drone-free” zones in order to prevent violations of national security. In Malaysia, since most government departments (including the Prime Minister’s residence) are located in the district, Putrajaya was declared a “drone-free” city.
In China, flying a drone around major sites such as the Forbidden City is prohibited unless permission is granted. The House of Parliament, Singapore Istana, and the airbase Paya Lebar are off-limits in Singapore. You can find “drone-free” zones in many developed countries throughout the world.
Safety is a priority with any new technology, and these regulations may seem “restrictive” at first glance, but essentially, they can lead to establishing clearer frameworks for commercial drone operations. This can help bring about a safer and more systemized drone industry that’s able to flourish.
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