Drone game: part 2

In his 2022 budget speech, the finance minister said that a 100 million ringgit grant would be given to Bumiputera SMEs to explore business opportunities in the aerospace segment.1 In doing so, the minister cited the success of local drone company Aerodyne Group, which quickly grew to become the world’s largest drone service provider. More recently, the Minister of Plantation Industries and Commodities said Malaysia will be able to take full advantage of AI-powered drone technology in the palm oil sector over the next three years.2 All signs continue to suggest that the development and use of commercial drones in Malaysia will make great strides in the near future.

Drones, or “unmanned aircraft systems (UAS)”As they are legally known in Malaysia, are regulated under Part XVI of the Civil Aviation Regulations 2016 (“RCA 2016“), which we explored in detail in our previous article from July 2020.3 Although the relevant parts of the 2016 CARs remain unchanged since we published our previous article, the Malaysian Civil Aviation Authority (“CAAM“) subsequently issued three directives which provided much needed clarification in certain areas concerning the operation of drones.

Civil Aviation Directive 6011 Part (I) Organization of remote pilot training (RPTO Directive)

The RPTO directive applies to all organizations wishing to organize remote drone piloting training and defines the requirements, administrative processes, instructions and guidance relating thereto. Organizations that meet the requirements contained in the RPTO Directive will be approved by CAAM and a list of all approved organizations will be posted on the CAAM website. These accredited bodies are then authorized to assess the competence of the remote pilots against a specific set of requirements and to issue the appropriate drone certificate on behalf of CAAM.

Civil Aviation Directive Part 6011 (II) UAS Farming (AUO Directive)

The AUO directive applies to farms that use drones. The use of a drone for the following purposes is expressly considered as an agricultural operation by the CAAM:

  • Distribution of any agricultural payload intended for plant food, soil treatment, propagation of plant life or pest control; Where
  • Engage in the distribution of agricultural payloads and surveillance activities directly affecting agriculture, horticulture or forest preservation, but not including the distribution of live insects.

The AUO directive prescribes among others full operational requirements for the use of agricultural drones in Malaysia as well as for the issuance of commercial and private aerial work certificates for such operations.

Some of the many operational requirements are listed below:

  • All operations must be conducted within 400 feet (122 meters) above ground level and at least 50 meters away from people, ships, vehicles and structures not involved in the operations;
  • All operations must be conducted beyond 9.26 km from an aerodrome and only in Class G airspace; and
  • All operations should be carried out within the visual field of view or within the extended field of view of the drone operator.

Civil Aviation Directive 6011 Part (V) UAS Special Project (SUP Directive)

The SUP directive is applicable to drone operations or projects that CAAM has classified as special. This classification essentially designates drone operations or projects that involve additional risks and they are made up of the following elements:

  • The transport of certain articles, including dangerous goods which are defined as articles or substances likely to present a danger to health, safety, property or the environment if not properly mitigated;
  • Operations beyond the visual line of sight of the drone operator, resulting in additional risks as it affects the operator’s ability to manage collision avoidance during the operation;
  • Research and development; and
  • All other operations that require additional operational support from CAAM because of the additional risks it implies.

The SUP directive prescribes among others the criteria and requirements for obtaining approval by CAAM for operations or special projects, as well as the rules for conducting an operational risk assessment.

Comment

Considering the very general and rudimentary nature of the drone rules currently contained in part XVI of the RCA 2016, the three comprehensive directives introduced by the CAAM are timely. The clarity provided by the AUO directive is particularly welcome given that the agricultural sector in Malaysia has appeared particularly willing to use drones. It is hoped that CAAM will continue to produce industry-specific drone regulations for other sectors such as oil and gas, construction, telecommunications, survey engineering and delivery services, which could all benefit greatly from greater clarity on drone rules.

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