Myanmar lacks extensive drone policies, but soon unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) will require registration – a significant development that will land their flight on more solid legal ground.
Users have already taken to the skies, prompting the government to move on regulation. For public safety, the Ministry of Transport’s Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) – in charge of all matters relating to drones – said it will designate where drones can fly and keep note of who is flying them.
From survey projects to aerial footage expeditions, drones are used in industries as varied as entertainment, healthcare, defence and emergency response.
However, when it comes to drones, prominent enthusiast and leader of the Myanmar RC Builders and Flyers Club U Win Naing and the government agree – they can also be dangerous.
U Win Naing said that as drones became more popular, people began using them in public areas, despite not knowing how to fly them.
Expensive, weighty UAVs can cause big problems if they come crashing down from a height of three football fields.
“If it goes down on a car or building, you can pay compensation,” he said. “But if it hits people’s heads, you’re going to jail. There’s no cure.”
The DCA said it is responsible for all matters regarding drones and UAVs, and that it is considering how to manage them.
International paradigms could help frame Myanmar’s legislation. The government has discussed safety-minded drone legislation with the Singaporean transport minister, U Win Naing said.
Because of its limited experience with drones and UAVs, the DCA said it is studying its neighbours’ rules and regulations with a view to gaining inspiration for its own.
Meanwhile, the future of drones in Myanmar will be considered beyond the DCA. Meetings could be held with the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Ministry of Trade and the Ministry of Finance, according to the department.
But legislation is at least a year off, according to U Win Naing.
Before it comes, the government is establishing interim protocols in the interest of public safety – procedures that, through registration, identify unmanned aerial vehicles.
“Before setting up rules and regulations for drones and UAVs, we will manage public safety,” the DCA said.
The government will grant “volunteers” the right to fly drones in two areas – one in Mandalay and one in Yangon – so long as they register with the DCA, which could take two or three months.
U Win Naing said he and others suggested two places: Hmawbi air force base or Thilawa Special Economic Zone, where drone hobbyists have met in the past to fly all kinds of drones, from model airplanes to spidery multi-copters.
Meanwhile, those that fly UAVs for commercial purposes need to apply for permission before take-off.
“Even now we can send request letters to the director general of the Department of Civil Aviation. Some of the commercial drone users want to take commercial footage and they’ve got to mention where, when and how high they’re going to fly,” U Win Naing said. “The department is going to give approval, depending on the location.”
Drone flight could also be restricted around the airport, as it is in other countries, although details haven’t been finalised, according to the DCA.
The DCA’s intention with the new registration is to help fliers, said U Win Naing. “They are supporting the technology,” he said.
The next step involves informing the public. The DCA has already drafted an announcement to be published in newspapers, which must be approved by the Ministry of Transport. U Win Naing said that after the government announcement comes out, he will organise registration documents for his group’s members – “maybe hundreds of them” – with one cover letter.
Technology often moves faster than bureaucracy. Around the world, drone use has taken off – often with very little regulation.
U Win Naing said the government has moved quickly in Myanmar to respond to drone use and activities. The uptake serves as proof for the government that the trend can’t be stopped, he said, adding that those in charge must provide guidelines to regulate the industry.
Confiscating drones is not a solution, he said.
Some activities will most likely be restricted for civilians. Long- range flying that takes drones for long distances isn’t generally allowed, U Win Naing said.
“[It’s] only for government purposes. For example the Myanmar Aerospace and Engineering University is going to Chin State where the flooding area is quite wide, to make long-range aerial photos and videos,” he said.
Ever the charismatic drone spokesperson, U Win Naing hopes to spread the good word about drones, which his group has put to use in response to recent flooding.
Bringing food and medicine to flood-hit areas, the Myanmar RC Builders and Flyers Club also sent tech to the skies for a bird’s-eye view of the disaster, which U Win Naing said he has shown to the government.