Hong Kong must address drone safety before matching mainland’s ‘low-altitude economy’: Lee

Hong Kong must address safety and regulatory concerns over the wider use of drones, the city’s leader has said, amid calls from lawmakers to follow mainland China’s “low-altitude economy” model and use uncrewed aircraft to transport tourists.

Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu said on Thursday that authorities in charge of maritime traffic, civil aviation and telecommunications would work together to review rules and run trial operations at some locations.

He said Hong Kong, being “very dense with many high-rise buildings”, faced a number of challenges to catch up with the path being forged across the border, and the city was proud to see the mainland take the lead in the use of drones.

A government study showed that any moves to expand the use of commercial drones in the city would require coordination between departments and adjustment of regulations, Lee added.

“Safety issues include not only drones falling on people, but also the impact on waterways. Even if the fall is slowed down [by parachutes], there are some issues,” he said during a question and answer session at the Legislative Council.

“It also concerns the [coverage of mobile network] signals, because if a drone is flying far away, we must ensure it can keep receiving signals.”

He said pilot operations and cross-departmental collaboration would be necessary to ensure the low-altitude economy could grow without compromising safety.

Lee also suggested that Deputy Chief Secretary for Administration Warner Cheuk Wing-hing could be in charge of coordination efforts.

Lawmaker Elizabeth Quat earlier called on the government to explore the use of drones to transport airline passengers from nearby mainland cities to Hong Kong’s airport or to operate sightseeing flights along the rugged coastlines of country parks.

Local food delivery services could also benefit, she said.

Fellow lawmakers Duncan Chiu and Chan Siu-hung also raised the topic in their questions during the session themed on innovation and technology, with the latter urging the city leader to more precisely position Hong Kong in the country’s efforts to promote research and development of drones.


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