In his 2022 Budget Speech, the Minister of Finance stated that a grant of RM100 million will be provided to Bumiputera SMEs to explore business opportunities in the aerospace segment.1 In doing so, the Minister cited the success of local drone company Aerodyne Group, which has quickly grown to become the largest drone service provider in the world. More recently, the Minister of Plantation Industries and Commodities has said that Malaysia will be able to take full advantage of drone technology equipped with artificial intelligence in the palm oil sector within the next three years.2 All signs continue to suggest that the development and use of commercial drones in Malaysia will take big strides in the near future.
Drones, or “unmanned aircraft systems (UAS)” as they are legally known in Malaysia, are regulated under Part XVI of the Civil Aviation Regulations 2016 (“CAR 2016”), which we comprehensively explored in our earlier article from July 2020.3 While the relevant portions of the CAR 2016 remain unchanged since we published our earlier article, the Civil Aviation Authority of Malaysia (“CAAM”) has subsequently released three directives which have brought some much needed clarity to certain areas regarding the operation of drones.
Civil Aviation Directive 6011 Part (I) Remote Pilot Training Organisation (“RPTO Directive”)
The RPTO Directive is applicable to all organisations that wish to conduct remote pilot training for drones and sets out the requirements, administrative processes, instructions, and guidance related to the same. Organisations that satisfy the requirements contained in the RPTO Directive will be approved by CAAM and a list of all approved organisations will be published on CAAM’s website. These approved organisations are then permitted to assess the competence of remote pilots against a specific set of requirements and to issue the appropriate drone certificate on CAAM’s behalf.
Civil Aviation Directive Part 6011 (II) Agricultural UAS Operations (“AUO Directive”)
The AUO Directive is applicable to agricultural operations which utilise drones. The use of a drone for the following purposes are expressly deemed to be an agricultural operation by CAAM:
- Dispensing any agricultural payload intended for plant nourishment, soil treatment, propagation of plant life, or pest control; or
- Engaging in dispensing agricultural payload and surveillance activities directly affecting agriculture, horticulture, or forest preservation, but not including the dispensing of live insects.
The AUO Directive prescribes inter alia comprehensive operational requirements for the use of agricultural drones within Malaysia as well as for the issuance of commercial and private aerial work certificates for such operations.
A few of the numerous operational requirements are listed below:
- All operations must be conducted below 400 feet (122 meters) above ground level and at a distance of not closer than 50 meters to persons, vessels, vehicles and structures uninvolved to the operations;
- All operations must be conducted beyond 9.26km from an aerodrome and only in Class G airspace; and
- All operations must be conducted in visual line of sight or extended visual line of sight of the drone operator.
Civil Aviation Directive 6011 Part (V) Special UAS Project (“SUP Directive”)
The SUP Directive is applicable to drone operations or projects which CAAM have classified as special. This classification essentially means drone operations or projects which carry additional risks and they consist of the following:
- Carriage of certain items, including dangerous goods which are defined as articles or substances that are capable of posing a hazard to health, safety, property or the environment if not properly mitigated;
- Operations that are beyond visual line of sight of the drone operator, which brings additional risks given that it affects the operator’s ability to manage collision avoidance during the operation;
- Research and development; and
- Any other operations that require additional operational support activity from the CAAM due to the additional risks it involves.
The SUP Directive prescribes inter alia the criteria and requirements to attain approval by CAAM for special operations or projects, as well as the rules for conducting an operational risk assessment.
Given the very general and bare-boned nature of the drone rules currently contained in Part XVI of CAR 2016, the three comprehensive directives introduced by CAAM are very timely indeed. The clarity provided by the AUO Directive is particularly welcome given that the agriculture sector in Malaysia has appeared to be especially willing to utilise drones. It is hoped that CAAM will continue to produce industry-specific drone regulations for other sectors such as oil and gas, construction, telecommunications, survey engineering and delivery services, all of which could greatly benefit from greater clarity on drone rules.