China’s drone regulations take effect, imposing fines and flight height limits

In addition to the sheer scale of the drone fleet in the air, the steady pace of innovations in this segment has left Chinese regulators struggling to catch up.

China’s interim UAV flight regulations took effect on the first day of this year, restricting the scope of drone activities and imposing penalties on offenders.

The Interim Regulations on UAV Flight Management stipulate that drone operators within China undergo real-name registration on https://uas.caac.gov.cn, a website which is affiliated with CAAC, the Chinese civil aviation authority.

Upon registration they will be issued a QR code, which needs to be printed out and glued to a part of their aircraft where it can be easily seen.

Screenshot from https://uas.caac.gov.cn

A multitude of drone-powered applications

Drones have proliferated across China in recent years amid surging demand for applications including aerial photography, sightseeing, policing, fire detection, search and rescue, meteorological survey and food delivery.

In addition to the sheer scale of the drone fleet in the air, the steady pace of innovations in this segment has left Chinese regulators struggling to catch up.

Amid growing concerns about the risks they pose to public and national security, the Interim Regulations on UAV Flight Management were drafted last year and scheduled to become effective January 1, 2024.

Image credit: Unsplash

Real-name registration

The new rules state that drone operators who are caught without a real-name registration will be subject to a fine of less than 200 yuan (US$28).

Offenders who commit “severe acts of violation” against the regulations are liable for a penalty between 2,000 yuan and 20,000 yuan — although the rules fail to explain what “severe acts of violation” are.

Additionally, they also spell out the legal drone flight height, meaning the maximum height to which drones can ascend.

Image credit: Unsplash

The sky is no longer … limit-less

The caps vary for drones of different sizes. The limit is less than 50m for micro-sized drones and no more than 120m for lightweight and small-sized unmanned aircraft.

In case there is misunderstanding, the regulations for the first time define maximum drone height as the distance between the drone and the ground, rather than the distance between the drone and its controller.

If the operator is perched atop a mountain, the legal height is measured as the space between the mountaintop and the drone.

Somehow, should the operator stand at the top of a 100-meter-high building, a small-sized drone is allowed to max out at 20m above the rooftop.

Medium- and large-sized UAVs are not bound by any drone flight height restrictions as of yet.

Image credit: Unsplash

Age limits

Apart from placing curbs on flight height, age limits also await China’s drone operators.

Children under the age of eight are only eligible to fly micro-sized drones.

Meanwhile, minors aged above eight but below 18 are permitted to operate micro-sized and lightweight drones.

And they must be accompanied by an adult to provide on-the-spot guidance. Otherwise, their guardians could face penalties, the regulations say.

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Ni Tao

Ni Tao is the founder and editor-in-chief of cnrobopedia. Prior to cnrobopedia, he had a full decade of experience with a major state-run English-language newspaper as a tech reporter and opinion writer. He is also a communications specialist, having provided consultancy services to established firms like Siemens, Philips, ABinBev, Diageo, Trip.com Group (Nasdaq: TCOM, HK: 9961), Jianpu Technology (NYSE: JT) and a handful of domestic startups. A graduate of Fudan University, he writes widely about China's business and tech scenes and other topics for global publications including South China Morning Post, SupChina, The Diplomat, CGTN, Banking Technology, among others, and tries to impart his experience to students at Fudan University Journalism School, where he is a part-time lecturer. When he's not writing about robotics, you can expect him to be on his beloved Yanagisawa saxophones, trying to play some jazz riffs, often in vain and occasionally against the protests of an angry neighbor. Get in touch with him by dropping a line at nitao0927@gmail.com.

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