Controllers, controlled


According to the Oxford English Dictionary the origin of the word ‘drone’ dates back a millennia to the Old English word ‘dran’, which described a male bee.

But of the four meanings of the term in the same reference dictionary the one that ranks fourth on the list is perhaps its most common usage today: a “remote-controlled pilotless aircraft or missile”.

The latter part of that description would chime with the views of the bureaucrats at the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC). Last week that body declared that any drone weighing more than 250 grams would have to be registered with the authorities (using its owner’s identity card). The new rules will come into effect on June 1 and threatens stringent penalties for anyone who flies their drones into the restricted areas around 155 designated airports in China.

The move comes after incidents with drones at airports in Chongqing, Kunming and Chengdu which led to planes being diverted. Fortunately there haven’t been any drone-related plane crashes in China but accidents of this type are one of the CAAC’s fears. For those violating the new code there is a sliding scale of punishments – fines of Rmb10,000 ($1,455) for more minor infractions, through to the death penalty in cases where passenger jets are placed in jeopardy by drone incursions over runways.

Of course, one challenge in regulating drone flying is that the term is a catch-all for everything from larger military-type units capable of firing missiles through to hobbyist models used for making amateur videos.

Shenzhen’s DJI is now the world’s biggest maker of the latter type of commercial drone and its latest Phantom 4 Advanced model weighs just over a kilogram. That means it would need to be registered under the new scheme and suggests that very few drone models will be exempt. That led one frustrated netizen to vent: “Even toys need to be registered now with the government.” To be fair, it may be a bit of a stretch to equate the Phantom 4 with a toy. It can fly at speeds of up to 72km/h and according to DJI it can be remotely controlled from a distance of 7km and piloted for 30 minutes at a time.

The Shenzhen-based company has admitted that the new CAAC measures have adversely hit its drone sales in China since they were announced. However, DJI vice president Shao Jianhuo stressed that the company would never “retreat from selling in China” as some online rumours had last week claimed.

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