• Yomiuri Editorial
  • Drones

Make the most of new technology, while also keeping the sky safe

The increased use of drones will improve convenience in a variety of fields, including logistics and public security. However, thorough safety measures are essential to prevent serious accidents.

With the enforcement of the revised Civil Aeronautics Law, the ban on drones flying at “Level IV,” the most advanced of the four levels of drone flight classification set by the government, has been lifted.

The government has eased the flight zones and conditions for drone flights in phases. In 2018, out-of-sight flights were allowed only in unpopulated areas. Level IV drones are now allowed to be flown out of sight, even over residential areas, on the condition that pilots hold a national license.

Drones are used by the central and local governments for surveying and gathering information during disasters. Deregulation is intended to encourage private-sector participation and expand the drone market.

A lack of easy access to shopping among elderly people in depopulated areas has become a serious issue. Due to labor shortages, it is reportedly not easy to secure truck drivers to deliver food and medicine to each household.

It is understandable that the use of drones is widely recognized as a way to help Japan overcome the challenges it faces.

Private companies are conducting trials in various locations. Seven-Eleven Japan Co. and ANA Holdings Inc. are delivering convenience store products in the town of Hinode in western Tokyo in one such trial. Japan Post Co. and other companies have successfully made deliveries in Nagano Prefecture over an altitude difference of 1,600 meters between the base point and destination.

Some companies are considering using drones not only for logistics but also for crowd control purposes.

The biggest challenge is to ensure safety. According to the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry, there were 139 accidents involving drones in fiscal 2021, double the number from the previous year. Most accidents involve contact with electric wires, but there is also a possibility that drones will crash into residential areas in the future. The issue is how to prevent accidents that cause injury or even death.

The operation of Level IV drones will be restricted to those who obtain a newly established license. As with automobile licenses, both a written and practical test will be required.

The installation of cyber security measures and parachute equipment will be mandatory for drones, and performance inspections will be conducted. Operators will have to submit a flight plan to the government in advance.

The government will not permit flights in urban areas for the time being. It will gradually approve flights first on remote islands and in mountainous areas.

It is only natural that the government has set strict standards for drone operations. The government needs to operate the new framework with safety as the top priority.

Chinese companies account for more than 70% of the global drone manufacturing market. Drones are also used to manage sensitive and critical infrastructure. The government should promote the development of domestically produced drones.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 24, 2022)