National Security Takes Flight in China’s Drone Laws

China has announced a series of regulations aimed at managing the growing number of drones in its skies. Drone owners in the country will have to register with the government beginning next year, according to the first-ever national laws on drones published this Wednesday. The new regulations target improving public safety and bolstering national security.

The published rules put several restrictions in place, notably prohibiting drones from capturing images or videos of military or secret installations. It also outlaws the use of drones for leaking state secrets or illegally transferring information beyond the Chinese mainland. Significantly, the law will disallow non-Chinese drones and pilots who aren't Chinese nationals from conducting land surveys from 2024 onwards.

The rules respond to increasing threats posed by the rapid increase of drones across sectors, including defense, agriculture, and research, said a spokesperson for both the justice ministry and the state air traffic office, as quoted in Chinese state media on Thursday.

The spokesperson emphasized, “Uncrewed aerial vehicles have been interrupting flights, injuring people when control is lost, and harming the rights of others by secret filming.” He warned that such issues pose a significant threat to aviation safety, public safety, and national security.

Temporary flight restrictions have already been put in place during mass events or politically sensitive gatherings, such as the political meetings known as “two sessions,” or lianghui, in Beijing, according to The South China Morning Post. Since 2017, some provinces and cities have also started implementing drone regulations.

The details on owner registration have not been specified, but flying an unregistered drone could result in fines of up to 20,000 yuan (US$2,800). Also, drone pilots will need to carry a permit and ID documents for possible inspection by authorities.

The rules will apply to all drones, even those weighing less than 250 grams (8.8oz), often used for photography, filming, and racing. Notably, drones in this weight class typically do not require registration in many , including the , , and Hong Kong.

The law indicates that the Chinese government will establish a national drone monitoring platform to record data on drone specifications, manufacturing, and usage. Any modifications made to a drone will need to comply with requirements and must be reported on the platform. Drones weighing less than 15kg will need to broadcast identification information when airborne.

The published law also announces the establishment of no-fly zones over sensitive areas such as military facilities, borders, and infrastructure, with the military, , and counterterrorism agencies authorized to interfere with, capture, or destroy any violating drone.

According to Yang Jincai, chairman of the Shenzhen Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Industry Association, 's , with over 15,000 companies, was worth 117 billion yuan (US$16 billion) in 2022, reflecting the rapid growth in this field. The new regulations aim to manage this expansion while ensuring safety and security.


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Haye Kesteloo
Haye Kesteloo

Haye Kesteloo is the Editor in Chief and Founder of DroneXL.co, where he covers all drone-related news, DJI rumors and writes drone reviews, and EVXL.co, for all news related to electric vehicles. He is also a co-host of the PiXL Drone Show on YouTube and other podcast platforms. Haye can be reached at haye @ dronexl.co or @hayekesteloo.

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