Since May 18, 2017 drone operators in China have had to register with the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC).
The decision was taken following a number of incidents near Chinese airports causing serious flight disruptions.
Any drone heavier than 0.55 pounds (250g) must now register, which represents the vast majority of drones available on the market. Ironically, the rules coincide with the end of recreational drone registration in the US.
The New Chinese Regulation
The new regulation released by the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) requires Chinese operators to register online under their real name, any drone heavier than 0.55 pounds (250g). The registration platform trial phase started on May 18, 2017 and will be fully operational from June 1, 2017.
At the same time, the government will publish no-fly zone data for civilian airports. By doing this, authorities hope to incite drone manufacturers to implement geofencing limiting drones to safe zones.
Since then, DJI announced that users will require mobile applications that control the drone to be activated with the user’s DJI account. The goal of the update is to gather more data on the flights to improve control on where the drones are flying. If DJI drone owners don’t upgrade their software, serious limitations will be applied such as restricted flight range and no more recording possibility.
Additionally, the CAAC wants to go one step further in using the registration system for creating a data-sharing platform. By connecting the platform to the apps that control drones, real-time operations could be tracked.
Airport Safety Concerns
The government claims that the regulation comes as a response to the increasing flight disruptions drones have caused near Chinese airports.
Private drones have become so popular that in the past two months several unauthorized drone flights caused aircraft to be diverted to other airports and several flights to be cancelled.
For instance, 4 drones flying over Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport in late April caused serious disruptions: 58 flights were diverted to alternative airports, 4 flights returned to their departure airport and 10 more were cancelled.
Moreover, an illegal drone flight affected over 10,000 passengers on May 12 near Chongqing Jiangbei International Airport. At least 40 flights were forced to land at alternative airports, while more than 60 other flights were cancelled and another 140 were delayed.
— People’s Daily,China (@PDChina) May 13, 2017
At least 10 more similar incidents were reported in the past three months according to the South China Morning Post.
The registration process raises some concerns about the ability of the government to crack down on pilots recording protests or questionable government activities.
Chinese Drone Market
China’s drone market has grown exponentially in recent years. By 2025, the market is estimated to be worth $10.9 billion (75 billion yuan) according to iResearch. Main segments encompass agriculture and forests monitoring as well as security drones.
There are more than 500 drone manufacturers globally, and 80% are Chinese including industry-leader DJI. Of the 13 most popular drone consumer manufacturers in 2015, no fewer than eight were Chinese following an analysis on Dronelife.
Drone technology has gained the interest of businesses across various industries in the country such as JD.com, the Chinese giant online retailer who recently announced plans to develop one-ton delivery drones.
DJI experienced sales decline in China following the introduction of the new regulations by the Chinese Civil Aviation Authority, and
“The stepped up regulations on drone flight safety will have an impact on all consumer-drone manufacturers, not only DJI,”
said Wang Cairong, the executive director at the China Artificial Intelligence Robot Industry Alliance, to the South China Morning Post, but some industry insiders are confident that the new regulations will benefit the industry in the longer-term.
“Real-name registration will guide the drone industry in China towards a healthy development.”
said Sophie Pan, an analyst with market intelligence agency IDC.