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Editorial: Gov't must do more to explain restrictions on drones in Japan amid boom

With the spreading popularity of drones, drone-related accidents and disputes have increased as well. In the two years between 2016 and 2018, the number of illegal drone flights in which people were apprehended rose 2.3 times to 82. One of the reasons for this appears to be a lack of understanding of drone regulations among drone users.

In Japan, anyone can purchase and operate drones without a license. Since drones allow a birds'-eye view of the landscape, their popularity has expanded.

The number of drone users in Japan is unknown, but the number of applications filed in cases requiring the national government's permission to fly them rose by nearly three times in fiscal 2018 compared to two years earlier -- a testament to the surge in the use of drones.

However, drone users' understanding of rules that have been instituted for safety and anti-terrorism purposes has been insufficient. There is said to have been a particular increase in the number of cases in which inbound tourists have flown drones in banned areas.

As a general rule under the Civil Aeronautics Act, drones cannot be flown over residential areas with a high population density, or at night. In addition, the act on prohibition of flights of small-sized aircraft, etc. was passed in 2016 to protect the National Diet Building and other significant government facilities from terrorist attacks.

Yet, it is difficult to know how far one is actually permitted to fly a drone, and what specific actions are illegal. Clear communication of the content of the laws dictating drone usage appears to be a task that the government has not sufficiently carried out.

Because the 23 central wards of Tokyo are all densely populated, people are not permitted to fly drones there without government permission. However, more than a few people believe they are allowed to operate drones in parks and other open spaces even in the 23 wards.

Surely the government could put more effort into informing potential drone users about the rules. It must take a proactive approach to bringing more awareness to the public.

First, there is a need to collaborate with operators of airports and ports where foreign visitors arrive, and provide people entering Japan with information regarding drone regulations. This year, the British government began a program to raise awareness about rules concerning drone use in partnership with a major retailer. Such cases from overseas could serve as models for the Japanese government.

In addition to being a tool for fun, drones can be used for a wide range of purposes, from managing expansive farmland to assisting in search-and-rescue operations. Going forward, drones' potential in the transportation of goods and industrial uses is bound to grow. Rules that address the developmental stages of drone technology and services for such purposes will become necessary.

It does not make sense, however, when rules take priority and precedence over all else and users are left behind. The government must not neglect its duty to win public understanding and support, explaining why each drone-related rule is necessary.

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