Channel NewsAsia

UAVs a big hit among hobbyists, commercial operators

Drones are mainly used by the military, but unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) are fast gaining popularity among hobbyists and commercial operators around the world. Its market looks set to expand significantly in the next five years once airspace regulatory restrictions are lifted.

SINGAPORE: Drones are mainly used by the military, but unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) are fast gaining popularity among hobbyists and commercial operators around the world.

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are remotely controlled through a digital network, and their small size and uncomplicated function have helped them quickly make the transition from the military to civilian sphere.

Even American e-commerce giant Amazon is considering using drones in a new delivery system designed to deliver products to customers within half an hour.

Also jumping on the bandwagon are filmmakers and photographers, fascinated by unique angles captured from the sky.

Singapore Hobby Supplies, a store which sells UAVs, attracts a number of interested buyers every week. With prices ranging from US$240 to US$12,000, the drones vary in sophistication.

Seemingly simple to operate, drones are increasingly becoming a hot item.

Ronald Yong, senior manager at Singapore Hobby Supplies, said: "It has definitely increased over the years, around 30 to 40 per cent every year. A good mix of customers, from students to photographers, videographers. A year or two ago, we see about 2 to 3 purchases in a week. This has increased to 5 to 6."

But not everyone flies safely and responsibly -- as the skies get more crowded, there are growing concerns over public safety, forcing aviation authorities to take a closer look at regulations on unmanned aircraft.

By September 2015, the United States will set out rules for the certification and operation of UAVs.

In Asia, although there is no set timeframe for such action, countries like Singapore have already started reviewing their existing laws in a bid to safely integrate civil drones into the national airspace.

Dalen Tan, head of the safety policy and licensing division at the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore, said: "The review will take into account the safety and security risks posed by unmanned aircraft activities -- particularly near aerodromes and sensitive installations, while allowing for the growth of the industry.

"Permission will have to be obtained for unmanned aircraft activities involving hire or reward or specialised services."

For countries that need guidance, the International Civil Aviation Organisation told Channel NewsAsia that it is preparing recommendations on how to license remote pilots, certify UAV operators, and issue legal certificates for aerial operation.

Expected in 2018, its release will most likely generate a significant expansion of the civil unmanned aircraft market.

According to market research firm Frost & Sullivan, the sector generated US$71.8 million last year. It is projected to grow to US$77.2 million this year, with the Asia-Pacific region -- led by China -- contributing 20 per cent of revenues.

By 2019, the sector is projected to grow to US$85.7 million.

Until regulations for the use of civil drones are put in place, we can only hope that commercial operators and hobbyists will use them responsibly as the skies around us get busier.

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