Saturday, September 7, 2013

Planned purchase of surveillance drones conflicts with Japan’s current aeronautics law

The Japanese Ministry of Defense’s
plan to purchase several Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) by 2015 may be facing a problem, and it’s not a financial one. According to the country’s current Civil Aeronautics Law, it prohibits the deployment and flight of an unmanned aircraft and doesn’t consider planes like the Global Hawk as “fixed-wing planes”.
The ministry announced last month that it was increasing its budget request by 3% for the next fiscal year. One of the reasons they’re asking for their biggest increase in 22 years is to be able to do research on unmanned high-altitude surveillance planes like the Global Hawk, and plans to buy the aircraft the year after. The ministry said, “In order to respond effectively to attacks on islands, it is indispensable to securely maintain superiority in the air as well as on the sea.” They believe it will strengthen the country’s surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities, especially in light of possible threats from North Korea and China.
But under the law, unmanned helicopters, those that are used for crop dusting, aerial photography and other purposes, are not allowed to fly over residential areas, airports and the surrounding areas near these places. So under the current aeronautics law, the drones can only fly over exercise areas. The Transport Ministry however said that if that kind of aircraft will be allowed to share airspace with regular planes, there needs to be some sort of stringent measures, including what is the procedure if wireless ground communication is
cut-off for one reason or another from the plane. They said they will be having continuous discussions with the Defense Ministry over this issue in the next few days. An official from the defense ministry said, “We will make efforts to ensure safe flights based on specific operational procedures for unmanned aircraft.”

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