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News Navigator: What are the new rule changes for flying drones in Japan?

A drone that was flown illegally in a densely populated area and confiscated by police is seen at Shimizu Police Station in the central Japan city of Shizuoka on March 9, 2020. (Mainichi/Yuriya Ikeda)

The Mainichi Shimbun answers some common questions readers may have about the recent change in regulations for flying drones.

Question: Are rules for flying drones going to change?

Answer: The Civil Aeronautics Act was revised in June to make it mandatory for those who possess unmanned aerial vehicles including drones for flight purposes to register with the national government. A punishment of imprisonment for up to one year, or a fine of up to 500,000 yen (about $4,650) will be imposed on those who fly unregistered drones. Although the unmanned aerial vehicles that are subject to such regulations under the law are specified as those weighing 200 grams or more, the scope of vehicles requiring registration may be expanded. The registration process is planned to begin by December 2021.

Q: So how does one register?

A: As a general rule, an application including the name and address of the owner as well as the model of the vehicle, among other information, is made online. The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism then assigns the drone a registration ID number if there are no problems with the application information. The ID number must be displayed on the aerial vehicle where it can be seen easily. It's something similar to a car's license plate. Fines are also imposed in cases where drones are flown without displaying the ID. The national government wants to be able to identify vehicles by detecting radio waves emitted by drones in the future.

Q: Why has registration for drones become necessary?

A: The usage of drones has rapidly become widespread and they play an active role in a wide range of fields, but they have also triggered various incidents. The number of reported accidents involving drones where people get injured or objects are broken increased from 55 cases in fiscal 2016 to 83 in fiscal 2019. By introducing a registration system, it is anticipated that drone owners can be identified immediately following an incident, leading to swift responses.

Q: These rules need to be followed properly, don't you agree?

A: The Civil Aeronautics Act bans flying drones near airports, densely populated areas, and other locations. However, there were repeated cases in 2019 where runways were closed after drones were seen flying over Kansai International Airport in western Japan. Therefore, the law regulating drones was revised in June enabling police and airport administrators to hinder the movement of drones using radio signals. The reinforcement of security measures is being advanced.

(Japanese original by Yoshitaka Yamamoto, City News Department)

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