New Drone Policy Still Hovering on the Horizon

By Nan Lwin Hnin Pwint & Tin Htet Paing 8 January 2016

RANGOON — Burma’s Department of Civil Aviation is making progress on a new policy to oversee the use of drones, according to an official from the Ministry of Transportation.

Deputy Minister Zin Yaw told the Upper House of Parliament this week that the department is “taking steps to distribute advisory circulars regarding the classification of drones according to weight and capacity, registration and issuance of permits for commercial use.”

The deputy minister said the new rules are necessary because, if left unregulated, drones could be used for unlawful acts such as terrorism. Streamlining a legal policy would enable permissible use of the technology for the media, agricultural planning, traffic management, defense and research, he said.

The new policy will allow the ministry to designate prohibited and restricted areas and enact other regulations in line with provisions of the Myanmar Aircraft Act.

Drones will not be allowed to fly over military bases without permission from of the commander-in-chief of the air force, the official said.

In the absence of a comprehensive national policy, some restrictions have already been put in place at the local level. Last December, the Shwedagon Pagoda board of trustees imposed a ban on drone flight above the grounds of the religious site in Rangoon.

Businesses catering to drone users welcomed the forthcoming policy but expressed concern that they might face hurdles in acquiring legal permission to operate.

Htay Aung, owner of Sky Photo and Video Studio, said he believed it was “good that regulations will be imposed and drones will be registered, but I am a little worried that small businesses like us won’t be allowed to use drones even if we follow the regulations.”

The department is working in collaboration with the ministries of defense, home affairs, finance and tourism to develop a comprehensive set of regulations, Zin Yaw said, though he did not indicate when the policy was expected to be enacted.

A director from the Department of Civil Aviation told The Irrawaddy on Friday that their department has been working on the Advisory Circular since three months ago and that the draft is now complete.

The department still needs to discuss the proposed regulatory framework with other related ministries this month, however, to take input from them before finalizing the circular.

According to the draft, registration of drones will be required of most devices based on their capacity level and specifications, while some smaller devices will not be required to register.

The Advisory Circular will pertain mainly to registration and ownership of the aerial devices, while permission to use drones in specific locations such as military compounds, government buildings or near pagodas will remain the purview of concerned authorities in those areas.

Nyana, the founder of Myanmar Aerial & Video Solutions (MAVS), told The Irrawaddy that the limited scope of the Advisory Circular could only guarantee that an individual’s device would not be seized if it is properly registered, leaving actual usage of drones to the whims of local authorities.

“It cannot be an ‘effective’ policy as long as users still have to apply for permission to concerned authorities of [specific] areas,” he said.

“Like in other countries, a typical system for Burma should centralize all permissions and regulations for drone usage as the responsibility of one specific department,” he continued.