Japan Further Restricts Drone Flights

Amendment of Aviation Act

Japan’s government moved to enact new legislation to restrict the operation of civilian drones over Japanese Self Defense and US military sites as well as over venues for the upcoming 2020 Tokyo Olympics and 2019 Rugby World Cup. Further restrictions reinforce ban the use of drones over or near airports.

According to the Japan Times, an English-language newspaper based in Tokyo, only drones providing coverage for and controlled by authorized media outlets will be allowed to operate over sports events. The Japanese government amended the existing law due to fears of terrorism, citing examples of drone attacks carried out in Venezuela, Syria, Yemen and most recently in Saudi Arabia.

This is not the first time that Japan has tightened its civil aviation laws in response to fears over drone-based attacks.

Japan first amended its Aviation Act and passed a new law in response to an incident in 2015. Yasuo Yamamoto, a 40-year-old environmental activist who was deeply opposed to the use of nuclear energy in Japan, flew a drone loaded with a small amount of radioactive sand over the Prime Minister’s office. The device landed on the roof and was not spotted by an employee until two weeks later, prompting the evacuation of the building.

Since then Japanese authorities have recorded a spike in illegal drone activity – often linked back to foreign tourists who are unaware of the rules.

Following the Yamamoto incident, Japan passed an amendment prohibiting drones, among other places in:

  • Areas where air traffic is expected, such as airports or military bases
  • In designated “Densely Inhabited Districts” (DIDs) or above gatherings of people
  • At a distance of closer than 30 meters (98ft) to people or objects or more than 150 meters (492ft) above ground level

Night time and beyond line of sight flights were also banned.

In 2016, further legislation specifically forbids UAV flights over “important facilities” including government buildings, embassies, and nuclear power facilities.

Tokyo has recently been rattled by a rash of drone sightings in restricted areas including two drone intrusions over the Imperial Palace, residence of the Emperor of Japan, and another sighting over the famous Shibuya street crossing.

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A Round-the-World Look at Drone Regulations

When did “COTS” (Commercial Off The Shelf) or hobby drones first enter your consciousness? Can you even remember? Perhaps it was a holiday gift for a young family member or video filmed from spectacular heights and uploaded to YouTube. Though Unmanned Aerial Vehicles or “drones” have been around for decades, it’s only within the past 10 years or so that they’ve become widely available to the public. And with that increase availability came a number of unexpected security headaches.

The Threat Emerges

Before the democratization of UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) technology in the early teens, there was almost no drone-specific legislation anywhere. Drones and their actions were mostly covered by rules governing civil aviation and lumped in with model airplanes and kites. A noticeable shift in the attitude of authorities towards consumer drones began around 2014 following a number of high-profile incidents involving drones:

  • October/November 2014Unidentified drones are spotted hovering over 13 separate nuclear power plants in France in what the Secretariat-General for National Defence and Security describes as an “organized provocation”
  • January 2015 – A drone ends up on the White House lawn in Washington, DC after the drunken pilot loses control of the device. The incident provokes a Secret Service investigation and raises concerns that the US capital could come under threat from consumer drones
  • April 2015 – A drone carrying a small amount of radioactive material is discovered on the roof of the offices of the Prime Minister of Japan. The pilot, who was protesting the use of nuclear energy in the country, received a suspended two-year sentence

Authorities Take Action

As complaints and reported incidents began piling up, taking many civil aviation authorities by surprise, a serious movement to bring drones and their operators under some sort of government control began taking shape. Although uneven, some common elements appear:

  • Limiting maximum flight altitude, often to around 120m (400ft)
  • Restricting drone operation to within line-of-sight and daytime hours
  • Banning unauthorized drone activity near airfields
  • Banning or restricting drone flights over populated areas
  • Prohibition of drone operation in disaster areas or near emergency operations

Still, drone regulations remain a subject of confusion for many including drone pilots themselves.

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We’re excited to present our newest White Paper and anti-drone resource: A Survey of Drone Regulations Around the World. Within you’ll find an overview of drone-related legislation in five countries around the world as well as helpful links and resources to learn more.

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India Opens Its Skies to Drones – What Are the Rules?

After some hesitation, India moved to legalize the operation of civilian drones over its territory.

The new laws (which you can read here) took effect on 01 December 2018 and are in line with the rapid modernization of the country whose booming economy has lifted millions into the middle class.

Drone Classification

The law introduces a new classification system for drones with all civilian devices now falling into five categories, based on weight:

  • Nano Drones – up to 250g
  • Micro Drones – 250g – 2kg
  • Small Drones – 2kg – 25kg
  • Medium Drones – 25kg to 150kg
  • Large Drones – over 150kg

Small to Large drones are permitted at an altitude of up to 120m (400ft) and all categories are restricted to within line of sight and daytime activity.

Unique ID’s and Operator Permits

With the exception of nano drones flying under 15m (50ft), the owners of all other devices must apply for a Unique Identification Number (UIN) through an online platform called “Digital Skyon which they also must file flight plans and obtain permission to fly. In this way, authorities hope to be able to keep track of civilian drones operating over the country.

Any pilot flying over 60m (200ft) will also be required to obtain an Unmanned Aircraft Operator Permit (UAOP), a sort of “drone driver’s license” open to operators over the age of 18 who have completed basic ground/practical aviation theory training and successfully passed an exam.

While the UIA is valid for the lifetime of the device, the UAOP must be renewed periodically.

“No Permission, No Take-Off”

A unique feature of Digital Sky is the electronically enforced “no permission, no take-off” (NPNT) policy requiring all drones flying above 15m to install software which will prevent them from operating if they have not received approval for flight plans submitted to Digital Sky.

All new drones sold in India must be NPNT compliant and owners of existing devices are required to upload the NPNT software to operate legally.

GNSS and Two-Way Communication Required

A feature of the law that will be of interest to airspace security administrators is the requirement that all devices above the nano category must be equipped with GNSS for horizontal and vertical position fixing and two-way communication between the pilot and drone.

It appears this detail was introduced to prevent the proliferation of autonomous drone technology whose ability to operate independently of GNSS would make detection and, if necessary, jamming of rogue UAVs more difficult for law enforcement.

Some Zones Off-Limits

As in most other countries, unauthorized UAV flights are forbidden in sensitive areas including:

  • Major airports
  • Urban centers
  • Military installations
  • Disaster areas
  • Within 25km of international borders
  • Government buildings and national monuments
  • National parks and wildlife sanctuaries

The law places responsibility on drone pilots to avoid disturbing the tranquility of their fellow citizens and to respect the privacy and safety of others.

But What About Non-Compliance?

Still, anti-drone protection will be doubtlessly be needed to counter rogue drone operators, including possible terrorist operatives, from using the technology for their purposes. The expense of obtaining licenses and the reluctance to wait for approval from the government for every drone operation may additionally push some pilots to fly without registration or authorization – increasing the risk of incidents.

Fortunately, anti-drone solutions including pilot and drone localization and neutralization have advanced rapidly over the past few years.

No Clear Guidelines for Foreign Pilots

For now, the law does not appear to allow foreign drone pilots to operate on Indian territory and other legislation forbids carrying UAVs in hand luggage (required by most airlines) which would prevent the majority of tourists or other operators from importing their devices entirely.

Expanded Capabilities in the Near Future

The Indian Ministry of Civil Aviation has already assembled a task force for recommendations on Drone Policy 2.0 under the chairmanship of the Minister of State, according to their press release.

Expected developments include regulatory architecture for autonomous operation, deliveries by drone, and BVLOS (flights beyond the line of sight).

And if it’s all a bit too much to remember, here’s a helpful overview from Tech2:

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Restricting Drone Usage at the Local Level

A recent report on the efforts of the Sedona Oak Creek Airport Authority and the US Forest Service in the American state of Arizona to ban drones flying in their vicinity raised questions over the Continue reading “Restricting Drone Usage at the Local Level”