Hong Kong: Drone Regulation in Hong Kong

Given their dramatic increase in available use applications and consequent rise in numbers (although not yet swarming through the Hong Kong skies) an increasing number of voices has been heard in recent times advocating serious attention to the regulation both of Drones and (perhaps of equal importance) of their users.

However, the Federal Aviation Administration ("FAA") of the United States is far ahead of world regulation in the complex difficulty of imposing of controls on unmanned aircraft systems ("UAS") requiring Drone operators to have a remote-pilot certificate earned by passing a specific test to fly a Drone for commercial purposes during daylight hours but remaining within the visual line of sight of the Drone operator and only permitted to drone into uncontrolled air space and without flying over people who are not involved in operating the Drone.

Further developments under the FAA rules are anticipated and the basic consequence of the introduction of such regulation is that in order to be commercially viable Drone manufacturers must tailor their products to comply with such regulations not only in the United States but, increasingly, in the rest of the world.

It is well known that the largest Drone manufacturer in the world is the Da-Jiang Innovations ("DJI") of Shenzhen, China immediately over the border from Hong Kong which continues to increase its dominant worldwide control over the manufacturing industry of Drones.

The Hong Kong Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data ("the Commissioner") has taken a proactive role in stirring up relevant government authorities with particular reference to the potential for increasingly frequent invasion by drones of personal data privacy.  The Commissioner has issued a Guidance Note extending his existing CCTV guidance to UAVs providing that any privacy intrusion by them can only be justified if it is proportional to the benefit to be derived from the use so as not to be considered as an unfair collection of data contrary to the Personal Data Privacy Ordinance ("PDPO").  It further requires a policy on retention and deletion of the collected personal data when no longer required.  The Guidance Note includes the drone hovering and the taking of photographs of faces sufficient to identify the subjects in ways which are the province of the Commissioner under the PDPO and – just possibly – enabling possible directional microphone pick-up of conversations which although not a province of the Commissioner under the PDPO would, nonetheless be an invasion of privacy.

There is no universally accepted definition of Drones but the term covers aircraft that are either controlled autonomously or by computers or by remote pilots. 

UAVs are equipped with high resolution cameras and are able to stay aloft for hours which without adequate control moves them from the field of toys and novelties into important and potentially very dangerous tools.

The principal Hong Kong regulatory applications over UAS and their use are by the Civil Aviation Department ("CAD").

However, these guidelines are advising in respect of the recreational use of UAS weighing not more than 7 kilograms.  These are considered by the current law to be model aircraft and are not subject to CAD regulation.

The CAD has issued guidelines restricting non commercial UAS flights to daylight hours only, prohibiting flights near airports or over congested areas as well as flights more than 300 feet above ground level.

However, although this is a definite step in the right direction these are not the law and represent guidelines only for recreational Drone flights. 

CAD has issued guidelines directed at UAS which are flown in a variety of commercial capacities such as aerial photography, surveying, mapping and agricultural inspection. 

For commercial Drone operation prior approval of CAD is required for any UAS weighing more than 7 kilograms.  This involves a detailed application process and of course for the unavoidable bureaucratic processing of an application effectively prevents time sensitive or urgent moments of need for the UAS use.

In July 2017 a Hong Kong resident flew his drone inside the departure hall of the Hong Kong International Airport.  Apparently his use of the drone was to take images near a boarding gate before he flew to Tokyo.  He was arrested upon return to Hong Kong on the basis that the indoor area of his UAV operation with substantial crowds was an unsafe place to use it and there is fortunately an Airport Authority by-law which prohibits objects that may pose flight safety hazards.  This incident immediately renewed calls for drone regulation adequate to prevent the menace of UAVs and this led to the introduction by the air traffic management division of CAD of a temporary restricted flying zone covering the west and east areas of Hong Kong harbour, the northern portion of Hong Kong Island and the coastal area of Kowloon Peninsula restricting all flying activities of aircraft, including helicopters and (inter alia) UAS.

Ever on the outlook for a profitable business activity these restrictions only emphasized the need for educative action in respect of UAS operation.  It was, perhaps, the extremely bold heist operational linking of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region with the city of Shenzhen across the border through the flying at night of a drone carrying a suspension line from a Hong Kong flat on the border to a Shenzhen flat across the border river which was then nightly over an undetected period of months of shipments of mobile phones propelled into China without either permit or import duty which stimulated publication by CAD on 3rd April 2018 of a three month public consultation together feedback on recommendations of a consultancy study recently delivered to CAD.

The consultancy study by Netherlands Aerospace Centre of the Netherlands recommended the following innovative and constructive recommendations :-

(i)        to set up a UAS registration system for UAS above 250 grams;

(ii)       to establish a risk-based classification model for UAS operations, taking into account the weight and type of operations of UAS such as where and how they are operated and developed the operating standards and requirements for each risk category

(iii)      to establish training and assessment requirements based on the risk category concerned which should improve operators' safety awareness and knowledge.  Duration and complexity of such training or assessment would be based on risks of the UAS operations.

(iv)      establishment of a UAS (drone) map primarily to cover no-fly zones and, conversely, areas suitable for UAS flights;

(v)       to develop insurance requirements for UAS based on the risk category; and

(vi)      study further the indoor operations of UAS.

It was further recommended that a three-category models for classification be adopted for the different types of UAS operations applying the same requirements to both recreational and commercial operation of UAS.

The concluding advice was to implement a strategy for the new rules adopted by phases in order to cater for appropriate regulatory controls both in the near, and in the medium and in the long term so that key items such as a registration database system and guidance materials can be easily and reliably identified and kept in place.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Some comments from our readers…
“The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable”
“I often find critical information not available elsewhere”
“As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”

Related Topics
Related Articles
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Mondaq Free Registration
Gain access to Mondaq global archive of over 375,000 articles covering 200 countries with a personalised News Alert and automatic login on this device.
Mondaq News Alert (some suggested topics and region)
Select Topics
Registration (please scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions