Flying a commercial drone in Malaysia: Part 1 – Rules & Regulations

by Henry Yeo
A commercial drone operator from Poladrone  flying the DJI Matrice 300 RTK.

Commercial drone application is relatively niche in Malaysia. We will explain the legal bits of flying a commercial drone in Malaysia.


What is a commercial drone?

In simple terms, if you are receiving payment for your work, your drone is considered as a commercial drone. Drones like the DJI Mavic series can be used both recreationally and commercially, depending on your preferences. Other drones like Poladrone’s Oryctes series are specifically designed for commercial use only. Consider how you are using your drone to see if you are subject to commercial drone regulations.

What is a commercial drone?
A picture containing indoor cabinet with law books.
Image via Unsplash


In Malaysia, Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) or commonly known as drones are regulated by Civil Aviation Regulations 2016 and it falls under the purview of the Civil Aviation Authority of Malaysia (CAAM). According to the law, a UAS is an “aircraft and its associated elements” which are operated with no pilot on board.

CAAM divides drones into three categories, namely:

1. Small Unmanned Aircraft System
A drone that weighs 20kg or less without fuel
2. Small Unmanned Surveillance Aircraft
A drone equipped to undertake any form of surveillance or data acquisition
3. Unmanned Aircraft System Of More Than 20kg
A drone that weighs more than 20kg

So, what is the difference between the first and the second category? Generally, any drone with a camera like the DJI Phantom series would fall under the second category.

Different categories of drone are subjected to slightly different sets of rules; we will look into the details below.

General rules to follow
Picture showing “OBEY” written on the fist. 
Image via Freeimages

Regardless of how you are using your drone, you must keep in mind these general rules:

a.Direct visual line of sight: Always maintain a direct visual line of sight with the drone. Using FPV cameras or other technology does not qualify.

b.Maximum flight altitude: Do not fly higher than 400 feet (122 metres) above ground.

c.Drone Hardware Inspection: It’s your responsibility to ensure that the drone is in good condition and safe to fly before any flight.

d.Flight Approval: Permission from CAAM must be obtained for all commercial drone operations.

e. No-fly zones: Permission from CAAM must be obtained for all commercial drone operations.

Where Can I Fly?
No drones signage post across mountain with fogs.
Image via Unsplash

No matter where you fly, you are sharing the space with others, both in the sky and on the ground. Thus, for safety purposes, there are some restrictions in Malaysia on where you can fly your drone.

Well, a simple guideline to follow is to keep your drones at least 5km away from any airport. In addition to that, several locations in Malaysia such as Putrajaya, Kuala Lumpur City Centre, the Parliament, and Istana Negara have been declared as no-fly zones.

Areas that are not open for public access can also be considered as no-fly zones. These include private properties, police stations, prisons, government offices, and military bases.

Aerial photography of the Petronas Twin Towers at sunset. 
The Twin Towers, a popular subject for drone photography, is actually in a no-fly zone. Image via Unsplash

That may sound a little confusing and overwhelming for you. Fortunately, you can check for no-fly zones using services such as Airmap and DJI GEO Zone Map. However, do note that these maps may not always display the most updated information. Ultimately, the responsibility is on you the pilot to stay informed.

We also recommend avoiding places where law enforcement officers or emergency services are working, such as an accident or crime scene. Should you be found to obstruct their duties, you can be charged under Section 186 of the Penal Code.



Flying a small unmanned surveillance aircraft

If your drone falls under the small unmanned surveillance aircraft category, additional restrictions apply for flying aircraft in Malaysia. They cannot be flown without permission:

  • Over or within 150 metres of designated areas (areas used for residential, commercial, industrial, or recreational purposes)
  • within 150 metres of any open-air assembly with more than 1,000 attendees
  • within 50 metres of any vessel, vehicle or structure which is not under your control
  • within 50 metres of any person,or
  • within 30 metres of any person during take-off or landing.
Flying a heavy drone

If your drone weighs over 20kg without its fuel, your drone will be treated similar to the other big planes in the sky. You will need to register your drone with CAAM, and it will undergo the airworthiness certification process. You may be required to hold a valid Private Pilot License (PPL) or Commercial Pilot License (CPL).



Other regulatory bodies

Depending on the nature of your drone-powered work, you may be required to seek approval from other related regulatory bodies as well.

The Department of Survey and Mapping Malaysia (JUPEM)
 Logo of JUPEM

JUPEM is a department under the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment responsible for providing mapping and cadastral services. JUPEM is also wholly responsible for and governs all types of aerial mapping photography for primarily security purposes. If you intend to carry out any aerial mapping, aerial photography, filming, and videography activities, you must make an application to the department.

The application can now be made online via https://ebiz.jupem.gov.my/ with a fee of RM50. Here is a user guide that you can follow for the online application process (). The application process may take up to seven working days and is only valid for the project stated on your application form.


Chief Government Security Office (CGSO)
CGSO logo

CGSO is responsible for all no-fly zones in Malaysia. Contact CGSO to obtain the latest list of restricted areas in Malaysia. If you wish to carry out any drone activities within a no-fly zone or near international borders, you will need to get approval from CGSO.

Website http://www.cgso.gov.my/portal/


Chief Minister Office of Sabah or Sarawak

A picture containing indoor cabinet with law books.

If you intend to carry out any drone operations within Sabah or Sarawak, an approval letter must be obtained from the respective chief minister’s office.

Sabah: http://ww2.sabah.gov.my/jkm/

Sarawakhttps://jkm.sarawak.gov.my/modules/web/index.php


Malaysia Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC)
MCMC or SKMM logo

Non-Malaysian drone operators will need to obtain approval from MCMC before commencing any drone activities. If filming is involved, an additional approval letter from the Central Agencies Committee for Applications for Filming and Performances by Foreign Artistes (PUSPAL) is required as well.

www.mcmc.gov.my


Local councils of respective areas

In certain areas, a clearance letter from the local council is needed. For instance, flying within Kuala Lumpur requires clearance from Dewan Bandaraya Kuala Lumpur (DBKL). Always check with your local council before carrying out any drone flights.


Applying for a permit

CAAM logo

You will need to obtain all the necessary approvals from the relevant authorities stated above before you apply for a permit from CAAM. Do not forget also to get permission from the landowner whose land you intend to fly over, in written form if possible.

Note that your application to CAAM (Strategic Affairs Division) must be submitted at least 14 working days before your planned date of operation, otherwise your application will not be processed.

Applying for a permit comes at a price, fees are as follows:

  • RM 250 for drones 20kg and below
  • RM 1000 For drones above 20kg

The permit is only valid for up to 3 months, based on the dates specified in your application.

To use drones for aerial work, you will also need to apply for an aerial work certificate, which must be renewed yearly:

  • New application: RM 800
  • Renewal of aerial work certificate: RM 500 per year
  • Modification of existing certificate: RM 250


The Future of Drone Regulations in Malaysia

An old typewriter typing “Update” on the paper.
Image via Unsplash

Just as the drone industry is new and rapidly evolving, so are the regulations surrounding drone use. Many countries have come up with their own sets of regulations, though they vary quite a lot, even within Southeast Asia.

Currently in Malaysia, CAAM has not authorised any drone Approved Training Organisations (ATOs) to issue drone operator licenses, so be careful when assessing the claims of drone training centres. Regardless of any drone licenses or certifications you may have, drone operators in Malaysia must apply for approval from CAAM and relevant authorities based on the guidelines in this article.

Does this mean drone training centres are irrelevant? Not at all. Established drone trainers such as Drone Academy Asia can equip you with the skills and experience needed to build a credible flight record, which will help you obtain approval in future.

That said, as more Malaysians embrace drone use commercially and recreationally, we can be optimistic that positive changes to drone regulations are coming soon. To stay up-to-date, follow CAAM and Poladrone on Facebook for the latest news.

Disclaimer:

While we have researched the listed regulations to the best of our knowledge, we cannot guarantee the accuracy of the information at the time of reading. To be safe, we recommend that you contact CAAM and the relevant authorities for updated information.

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