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Summary

The December 2015 Interim Provisions on Light and Small Unmanned Aircraft Operations (UAS Operation Provisions) issued by China’s civil flight regulatory agency, the Civil Aviation Administration of China, regulate the operation of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) with a maximum empty weight of 116 kilograms or less, or a maximum take-off gross weight of 150 kilograms or less, and a calibrated air speed of no greater than 100 kilometers per hour. UAS weighing 1.5 kilograms or less are generally not required to follow the Provisions.

The UAS Operation Provisions set forth an online, real-time supervision system comprising the “electric fence,” a system consisting of hardware and software that stops aircraft from entering certain areas, and the “UAS Cloud,” a dynamic database management system that monitors flight data, which has an alarm function for UAS connected to it that is activated when these UAS fly into the electric fence.

Airport obstacle control surfaces, as well “prohibited areas, restricted areas, and danger zones” provided by other laws and regulations, are restricted areas prescribed by the UAS Operation Provisions. UAS connected to the UAS Cloud must follow the restrictions shown in the system, while those not connected to the UAS Cloud must consult with relevant authorities about the restricted areas.

UAS flying within visual line of sight (VLOS) must be operated in the daytime. Such a requirement does not apply to UAS flying beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS), but a certain regulatory framework for addressing emergencies applies to BVLOS flights. Both UAS flying within VLOS and BVLOS must give way to manned aircraft.

I. Introduction

The People’s Republic of China (PRC or China) has not passed any legislation specifically regulating drones or unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). Civil aviation and flight activities are primarily regulated by the PRC Civil Aviation Law, the PRC General Flight Rules, and the Regulations on General Aviation Flight Control. They have not, however, expressly extended their application to the flight of UAS.

China’s civil flight regulatory agency, the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC), has issued advisory circulars setting up guidelines for the flight of UAS. These interim measures are expected to be updated as the UAS industry and regulatory framework develop. [1]

The CAAC is considering new rules on commercial operations of UAS and issued a draft of the rules to solicit public opinion in December 2015, but a final version of the rules has not yet been adopted. [2] In addition, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) is reportedly planning new UAS regulations. [3]

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II. Legislation on Civil Aviation and Flight Activities

A. PRC Civil Aviation Law

The PRC Civil Aviation Law regulates civil aviation throughout the country. [4] The Law authorizes the CAAC to formulate regulations concerning civil aviation. [5] The term “civil aircraft” under this Law refers to any aircraft other than those used for military, customs, and police purposes. [6]

B. PRC Basic Rules of Flight

According to the PRC Basic Rules of Flight that were originally promulgated in 2000 and last amended in 2007, all flight activities in China are under unified state control, which is delegated to the State Council and the Central Military Commission (CMC). [7] According to the Rules, all individuals and organizations in China owning aircraft and their flight activities are subject to the Rules. [8]

C. Regulation on Flight Control of General Aviation

The Regulation on Flight Control of General Aviation is an administrative regulation that applies to all commercial and recreational operations of aircraft except those involved in public air transportation. “General aviation” under Chinese law refers to

aviation operations other than military flights, police aerial actions, customs anticontraband flights, and public air transportation flights. It includes flight operations in the fields of industry, agriculture, forestry, fishery, mining, and construction, and flight operations in the fields of medical and health work, emergency rescue and disaster relief, meteorological observation, ocean monitoring, scientific experiments, remote sensing and mapping, education and training, culture and sports, and tourism and sightseeing, etc. [9]

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III. UAS Operation Provisions

On December 29, 2015, the CAAC issued the Interim Provisions on Light and Small Unmanned Aircraft Operations (UAS Operation Provisions). The Provisions regulate UAS with a maximum empty weight of 116 kilograms or less, or a maximum take-off gross weight of 150 kilograms or less, and a calibrated air speed of no greater than 100 kilometers per hour. The Provisions are also applicable to “plant protection UAS” used for agricultural, landscaping, or forest protection purposes with a maximum take-off gross weight of 5,700 kilograms or less and flying no higher than 15 meters above the surface, and unmanned airships with an inflatable volume of 4,600 cubic meters or less. [10]

A. UAS Categories

The UAS Operation Provisions divide UAS and unmanned airships subject to its regulation into seven categories, mainly based on weight and use, as follows:

  • Category I: UAS weighing 1.5 kilograms or less.

  • Category II: UAS with an empty weight between 1.5 kilograms and 4 kilograms or with a take-off gross weight between 1.5 kilograms and 7 kilograms.

  • Category III: UAS with an empty weight between 4 kilograms and 15 kilograms or with a take-off gross weight between 7 kilograms and 25 kilograms.

  • Category IV: UAS with an empty weight between 15 kilograms and 116 kilograms or with a takeoff gross weight between 25 kilograms and 150 kilograms.

  • Category V: Plant protection UAS.

  • Category VI: Unmanned airships.

  • Category VII: Category I and II UAS that can operate 100 meters beyond visual line of sight.[11]

Category I UAS are required to be operated safely and to avoid causing injury to others, but are not otherwise subject to the UAS Operation Provisions. [12] Nor do the Provisions apply to model aircraft and indoor flights, except under certain conditions specified by the Provisions. [13]

B. Electric Fence and UAS Cloud

The UAS Operation Provisions set forth an online, real-time supervision system that has two components: the “electric fence” and the “UAS Cloud.” The “electric fence” is a system consisting of hardware and software that stops aircraft from entering certain areas. The UAS Cloud is a dynamic database management system that monitors flight data, including operation information, location, altitude, and speed, in real time. The UAS Cloud has an alarm function for UAS connected to it that is activated when these UAS fly into the electronic fence. [14]

UAS under categories III, IV, VI, and VII must install and use the electric fence and connect to the UAS Cloud. Operators must report at least every second when in densely populated areas and at least every thirty seconds when in non-densely populated areas. [15]

UAS under categories II and V are required to install and use the electric fence, connect to the UAS Cloud, and report at least every second if they are operated above the airspace of key areas and in airport clear zones. [16] “Key areas” is defined by the Provisions to include military sites, nuclear plants, administrative centers and their neighboring areas, and areas temporarily designated as key areas by local governments. [17]

A qualified UAS Cloud provider must be approved by the CAAC for a trial operation, among other requirements specified by the UAS Operation Provisions. [18] A UAS Cloud system developed by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association of China, “U-Cloud,” has been approved for operation during a two-year period from March 4, 2016, to March 3, 2018. [19]

C. Restricted Areas

Airport obstacle control surfaces are restricted areas prescribed by the UAS Operation Provisions. “Prohibited areas, restricted areas, and danger zones” provided by other laws and regulations are also restricted areas under the Provisions. [20] UAS connected to the UAS Cloud must follow the restrictions shown in the system, while those not connected to the UAS Cloud must consult with relevant authorities about the restricted areas. [21]

In 2009, the CAAC issued rules on air traffic control for civil UAS, which subject civil UAS to the relevant provisions of the Civil Aviation Law, the Basic Rules of Flight, the Regulation on Flight Control of General Aviation, and other rules concerning air traffic control issued by the CAAC. [22]

D. Flight Specifications

According to the UAS Operation Provisions, UAS flying within visual line of sight (VLOS) must be operated in the daytime. Such a requirement does not apply to UAS flying beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS), but a certain regulatory framework for addressing emergencies applies to BVLOS flights. Both UAS flying within VLOS and BVLOS must give way to manned aircraft. [23]

E. Insurance

In compliance with the PRC Civil Aviation Law, the UAS Operation Provisions require UAS operators to buy insurance for UAS covering liability for third parties on the ground, a requirement deemed to be “consistent with best practices.” [24]

F. Pilots

The UAS Operation Provisions require a pilot-in-command to be appointed who is directly in charge of the operation of the UAS and has the right to make final decisions. [25] Qualification requirements for UAS pilots are prescribed by another CAAC advisory circular issued in 2013, the Interim Provisions on the Administration of Civil Unmanned Aircraft System Pilots. [26]

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IV. Manufacturing and Sale

A. Allocation of Frequencies

On March 10, 2015, the MIIT issued a notification setting forth the radio frequency spectrum allocation for UAS. According to the notification, 840.5–845MHz, 1430–1444MHz, and 2408–2440MHz are dedicated to UAS. [27]

B. Export Ban

In mid-2015, a temporary export ban on certain dual-use UAS was announced by the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense (SASTIND) under the MIIT, joined by the Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM), General Administration of Customs (Customs), and the army. [28] As of the date of this report, the temporary export ban does not appear to have been lifted.

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Prepared by Laney Zhang
Senior Foreign Law Specialist
April 2016


[1] 轻小无人机运行规定(试行) [Interim Provisions on the Operation of Light and Small Unmanned Aircraft] (UAS Operation Provisions) (CAAC, Dec. 29, 2015), http://www.caac.gov.cn/XXGK/XXGK/GFXWJ/201601/P02016 0126526845399237.pdf , archived at https://perma.cc/KJW9-9TQ4; 民用无人驾驶航空器系统驾驶员管理暂行规定 [Interim Provisions on the Administration of Unmanned Civil Aircraft System Pilots] (CAAC, Nov. 18, 2013), http://govinfo.caac.gov.cn/000014170/201312/P020131206515715975483.pdf , archived at https://perma.cc/V4PT-9ER6.

[2] Jun Wei et al., China Launches First Operational Rules for Civil Unmanned Aircraft, Global Media and Communications Watch (Jan. 21, 2016), http://www.hlmediacomms.com/2016/01/21/china-launches-first-operational-rules-for-civil-unmanned-aircraft , archived at https://perma.cc/E9DT-Y3Z7.

[3] 工信部调研深圳无人机企业监管法案或年内出台 [Ministry of Industry and Information Technology ( MIIT) Conducting Research on Unmanned Aircraft Enterprises in Shenzhen, Administrative Regulations May Come Out This Year], Sina (Feb. 29, 2016),http://tech.sina.com.cn/it/2016-02-26/doc-ifxpvysx1694773.shtml, archived at https://perma.cc/5PK6-TRUH.

[4] 中华人民共和国民用航空法 [PRC Civil Aviation Law] (adopted by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC), Oct. 30, 1995, amended Aug. 27, 2009, and Apr. 24, 2015), art. 3, Zhonghua Renmin Gongheguo Falü Fagui Huibian: Jingji Fa Juan I [Laws and Regulations of the People’s Republic of China: Economic Law I] (PRC Laws and Regulations) 1141–87; Quanguo Renmin Daibiao Dahui Guanyu Xiugai Zhonghua Renmin Gongheguo Jiliang Fa deng Wubu Falü de Jueding [Decision of the NPC Standing Committee on Revising Five Laws Including the PRC Metrology Law] (Apr. 24, 2015), available on the NPC website, at http://www.npc.gov.cn/npc/cwhhy/12jcwh/2015-04/25/content_1934602.htm , archived at https://perma. cc/P3LW-S24M.

[5] Id.

[6] Id. art. 5.

[7] 中华人民共和国飞行基本规则 [PRC Basic Rules of Flight] (promulgated by the State Council and CMC, July 24, 2000, amended July 27, 2001, and Oct. 18, 2007), arts. 3 & 4, PRC Laws and Regulations 1234–63.

[8] Id. art. 2.

[9] 通用航空飞行管制条例 [Regulation on Flight Control of General Aviation] (promulgated by the State Council and CMC, Jan. 10, 2003, effective May 1, 2003), art. 3, PRC Laws and Regulations 1208–17.

[10] UAS Operation Provisions §§ 2.1–2.3; Jun Wei et al., supra note 2.

[11] UAS Operation Provisions § 2.4.

[12] Id. § 2.5.

[13] Id. §§ 2.6 & 2.7.

[14] Id. §§ 3.17 & 3.18; Jun Wei et al., supra note 2.

[15] UAS Operation Provisions § 14.1; Jun Wei et al., supra note 2.

[16] UAS Operation Provisions § 14.1; Jun Wei et al., supra note 2.

[17] UAS Operation Provisions § 3.14.

[18] Id. § 15.

[19] 无人机监管系统 优云 (U-Cloud)” 正式获批 [UAS Supervisory System U-Cloud Officially Approved], Xinhuanet (Mar. 7, 2016),http://news.xinhuanet.com/science/2016-03/07/c_135163844.htm, archived at https://perma.cc/REV5-MGJM.

[20] UAS Operation Provisions § 10.

[21] Id.

[22] 民用无人机空中交通管理办法 [Provisions on Managing Air Traffic of Unmanned Civil Aircraft] (June 26, 2009),http://www.caac.gov.cn/XXGK/XXGK/GFXWJ/201511/t20151102_7975.html, archived at https://perma.cc/ UJ4F-N4L7.

[23] UAS Operation Provisions §§ 11 & 12; Jun Wei et al., supra note 2.

[24] UAS Operation Provisions § 14.2; Jun Wei et al., supra note 2.

[25] UAS Operation Provisions § 4; Jun Wei et al., supra note 2.

[26] 民用无人驾驶航空器系统驾驶员管理暂行规定 [Interim Provisions on the Administration of Unmanned Civil Aircraft System Pilots] (CAAC, Nov. 18, 2013), http://govinfo.caac.gov.cn/000014170/201312/P020131206515715 975483.pdf , archived at https://perma.cc/V4PT-9ER6.

[27] 工业和信息化部关于无人驾驶航空器系统频率使用事宜的通知 [Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) Notification on Matters Regarding Usage of Frequencies by Unmanned Aircraft Systems] (Mar. 10, 2015), http://wgj.miit.gov.cn/n11293472/n11295310/n11297382/n14171129/16541659.html , archived at https://perma.cc/P2QE-K2ZD.

[28] 商务部、海关总署、国家国防科技工业局、中国人民解放军总装备部 联合公告2015年第20号 (关于对军民两用无人驾驶航空飞行器实施临时出口管制的公告) [Joint Announcement [2015] No. 20 of the MOFCOM, Customs, SASTIND, and General Armament Department of the People’s Liberation Army of China on Implementing Export Control over Dual-Use Unmanned Aircraft] (June 25, 2015, effective July 1, 2015),http://www.customs.gov.cn/publish/portal0/tab515/info761305.htm, archived at https://perma.cc/3TPS-T486.

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Last Updated: 07/22/2016