Photo/IllutrationA drone flies in an experiment in Minami-Soma, Fukushima Prefecture. (Taiki Koide)

  • Photo/Illustraion

The government will require drone owners to register detailed information about their unmanned aircraft in an effort to reduce the number of problems and the risk of disaster in Japan’s airspace.

The necessary procedures for the new policy will start next year, including revising the Civil Aeronautics Law.

Drone owners and operators will be required to register their names, address, drone manufacturer’s name, model, manufacturing number, weight and other data on a government website.

The registration requirement covers aircraft already in use or brought to Japan from abroad.

The government will issue registration numbers, and the owners will be required to display the numbers on the surface of their drones.

Unregistered drones will be prohibited from flying, although aircraft weighing less than 200 grams will not be subjected to the mandatory registration.

The government hopes the registration system will make it easier to identify owners of drones that cause trouble and deter operators who are tempted to break the rules and cause safety hazards, including at commercial airports.

Drone owners are expected to change or delete registered information when necessary.

The U.S. government has already enforced a mandatory registration system for drones, and a similar policy will be introduced in Europe next year.

Drone use has spread rapidly over the past few years in Japan. Once seen as a hobby for enthusiasts, drones are now used in a wide range of industries, including aerial photography, crop-dusting, surveying and transportation of goods.

The Civil Aeronautics Law has set rules for aircraft weighing 200 grams or more. Owners must obtain government permits to fly drones: in airspace higher than 150 meters; at event venues; around an airport; over densely populated areas; at night; and in situations where the operator cannot see the aircraft.

The government uses the permit applications to gain information about the drone and its owner, as well as the proposed flying date, place and altitude.

In fiscal 2018, the number of permit applications was 36,895, nearly triple the 13,535 applications received in fiscal 2016.

However, reported troubles and accidents involving drones have also increased.

The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism received 79 such reports in fiscal 2018, compared with 55 in fiscal 2016.

Drone operations in off-limits areas have been increasingly observed.

At Kansai International Airport, an apparent drone was seen near runways at least four times since October.

On the morning of Nov. 9 at the No. 2 Terminal, several ground workers saw a red-colored object flying up and down.

Ten minutes later, the airport shut down two runways for safety reasons.

The airport operator, police and Japan Coast Guard searched for the troublesome aircraft but couldn’t find it.

After about 70 minutes, the airport resumed takeoffs and landings on the runways.

But two domestic flights were canceled, and 17 domestic and international flights were forced to change their destination.

Forty-four flights were affected.

Flying objects also caused the airport to shut down runways for about 40 minutes on the evening of Oct. 19 and twice for about two hours on the evening of Nov. 7.

Kansai International Airport is only airport in Japan that has closed its runways because of a drone sighting, according to the ministry.

“We will likely receive more reports of trouble in the future,” a ministry official said.

The government thus concluded that a registration system was needed.

At the same time, the government has been promoting the use of drones.

It decided to establish, before fiscal 2022, an environment in which people can safely fly drones in populated locations or in areas where the machines fly out of visual range.

The government has gradually implemented security measures for that policy.

In June, the government revised the Civil Aeronautics Law to prohibit operators from flying drones under the influence or performing dangerous maneuvers, such as steep dives.

In July, the government renewed notices based on the law to require drone owners to register their permitted flight plans in advance on a government website.