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The use of unmanned airborne vehicles (UAVs) or drones has been going on for more that ten years now in Thailand. They were widely used by the mass media during the protests and floods to show pictures of crowds and the extent of floods. At that time, the drones were massive and often needed two operators to fly them. One for the drone itself and the other to operate the camera. The price was also out of the range for private operators. The minimum was over 100,000 Baht if not double that. Then things changed towards the end of 2013 when DJI brought out their first affordable drone. That was when I first started flying drones in Thailand.

The drone that I bought in 2013, and still use today, is the DJI Phantom Vision 2. At that time it cost me 38,000 Baht which sounded cheap compared to the cost of the big drones I was previously contemplating on buying. However, since then, the price of my drone has dropped down to only 25,000 Baht as newer and better drones have been released. The best thing about the Phantom Vision is that it can be flown literally out of the box, even by amateurs. I was up and flying as soon as I was able to charge the batteries. The downside of this new and cheaper technology is that more people started to use them. Back then there was only one shop supplying this drone. Now there are at least half a dozen in Bangkok. I’m on Facebook with many of them and over the New Year period they were posting pictures almost daily of foreigners buying the drones.

When I started flying it was still much a novelty. I use the drone mainly for my work to take aerial photos at tourist attractions (see Thailand From Above). There was a lot of interest in my pictures as it was showing familiar locations but from a new perspective. Like this Standing Buddha by the sea just South of Hua Hin. Most people have to take a side view from the beach. I think this seaview was one of the first from this unique angle. These days, when I’m taking pictures at festivals and other events, I always have competition with other drone pilots. At a recent event there were three other drones flying at the same time. These guys are either from the mass media or are Thai travel bloggers like myself. The Bangkok Post and The Nation both have their own drones and fly often.

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When I fly I always try to so responsibly. At a festival with large crowds, I always find a place first that is not so crowded so I can take off and land safely. If it’s too crowded I won’t fly. Secondly, I won’t fly low over the heads of people. There has been a few occasions when I was taking pictures at an event with my DSLR when a drone flew over the crowd just inches above my head. That was very irresponsible. The props on the drone can do a lot of damage if it hits someone in the eye. They can also do a lot of damage if they drop out of the sky due to a battery error or some other malfunction. As more and more people are flying drones, the chances of someone being seriously hurt or, heaven forbid, killed increases.

There hasn’t been much in the way of regulations, or certainly anything enforced, over the last few years as only professionals were using the drones. But now as more and more people are buying and flying them we are going to see regulations coming in sooner rather than later. Up to now, the only restrictions I’ve had were flying over palaces and military bases. It’s common sense. I would never try and fly inside the Grand Palace. It’s not even worth asking. But lately I’ve started seeing restrictions in other places. For example the parks in Bangkok. I was flying recently at the flower festival in Rama IX Park when I was chased down and told to stop. They said I had to get written permission in advance. The same thing happened at Ancient Siam. I was flying there when I was told to stop. Again I was told to get written permission. But elsewhere I have been fine so far, but I use common sense.

In December 2014, news came out that government agencies were contemplating in bringing out legislation to control the use of drones in Thailand. This was inevitable. It has already been in the news that these UAVs were being used to smuggle drugs and mobile phones into prisons. And now that more and more people are using them for recreation, the chances of a serious accident happening has greatly increased. Also, we mustn’t forget that we are living under martial law at the moment and so there is always a worry about national security for the military junta. For myself I welcome legislation. When the time comes, I will try and apply for the license so that I can continue flying. However, at this moment in time, we don’t know the full extent of any restrictions that they might make. Or how it will affect ordinary people like myself.

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The new regulations on flying drones in Thailand are expected to be brought in during February 2015 under the Air Navigation Act. No details are known yet, but according to an article in the Bangkok Post this morning (see here), the general public will NOT be able to fly drones carrying cameras. It would seem that licenses for this will only be issued to businesses that need aerial photographs for their work, the mass media and film-makers. As a travel blogger I am not sure if I fit into this category but I will certainly try. Other restrictions expected to come in include flight height limits of between 15 and 150 meters, size and weight of drones, and the length of time they can fly. Nothing is set yet, but the BP is saying that you could face one year in prison and a fine of 40,000 Baht if you fly your drone illegally in Thailand.

I was actually thinking about buying a new drone that costs 95,000 Baht. But, I will now delay this until it is clear whether I can get a license or not. If you are thinking about buying or flying a drone in Thailand, I would also suggest that you rethink. No point in buying an expensive drone if you cannot fly it.

36 comments

  1. Ray says:

    I recently bought one for fun and was thinking about upgrading as well. In the past I flew RC helicopters bit these drones as so much easier to control. Having read your article I will also hold of the new purchase of a better drone. Maybe go back to rc helicopter flying.

  2. Irwin says:

    “The best thing about the Phantom Vision is that it can be flown literally out of the box, even by amateurs.”

    I beg to differ.it’s probably the worst feature of the Phantom Vision and the like! multirotors with RTH, loiter, and other features make it TOO easy for everyone giving the wrong idea that RC flight is a cinch. i’ve been flying helis and planes (i have a few multirotors myself) for years now and i know firsthand how much skill and discipline (not to mention $$$) are needed just to be good at it.

  3. I suspect (hope?) that some of this will be too impractical for them to implement. BP article mentioned having to seek permission from Transport Department prior to flying. I doubt that will work.

    I too have been flying here for a few years, starring with Phantom 1 back in 2013. I was waiting to order an Inspire 1, but like you I’ll hold off now. It will be very sad if they do introduce these changes as reported. Regulation is good, but an outright ban of drones with cameras seems excessive. I suspect many Thai’s won’t be best pleased either.

    • Richard Barrow says:

      The permission to fly part isn’t clear. Do they mean once (as in getting a license) or each and every time you want to fly? Which of course is impractical. In American they banned all commercial use of drones. Here, it is looking like it will be the opposite. Banning amateurs but media and commercial enterprises can fly with permission.

      • I hope common sense will prevail, but this is worrisome. I enjoy flying where I go, and if this hobby isn’t possible anymore I’m not sure what I’ll do.

        If you’re interested I post some of my aerial shots on google+ https://plus.google.com/+RichardHearne/

        You have some nice locations, and some extra post work to remove fisheye and correct colours would make your shots even better I think.

        • Richard Barrow says:

          Thanks for the link. Looks good. What do you use to straighten the horizon? Curvature doesn’t really bother me that much but others complain about it. The Inspire 1 drone’s camera apparently automatically solves this problem on the go.

          • I correct in Photoshop. There’s a lens correction filter with profiles for gopro and DJI cameras. Color grading also there. Grading in post can make a big difference, removing all or most of that grey washed out look. In using agopro 3+ which to my eye delivers better shots than the vision. I saw some guys crash a vision at the golden mount temple in Bangkok last week. Wasn’t pretty.

            The inspire camera doesn’t use a fisheye lens, or at least has far less distortion than you’ll get from gopro/vision cameras. My heart is set on getting one, but these new regulations would kill me.

          • Richard Barrow says:

            I saw my picture that you posted on twitter with lens correction. Looks good. I just need someone to teach me now. I’m not very good at photoshop 🙁

  4. wan says:

    I will be going to krabi on 6th february which is next week. Ive been planning to bring along my dji for some aerial shooting while im there. Is the law have been implemented by that time? I couldnt seem to find an exact answer yet. Hopefully you guys can help me clear it before next week. Your help is much appreciated.

  5. A flew with a Phantom 2 in hand luggage on Feb 11. No problems in HKT or UTH.

    Batteries cannot be checked however, inline with IATA rules.

    There still hasn’t been any change to the law AFAIK, so I don’t think there’s any need for concern.

  6. Al Gonzales says:

    Do you know of any quadcopter repair shops I have a WL-V 303 seeker that went dead, nothing comes on when the battery is connected. Your reply will be appreciated

    Al

  7. Adam Hroch says:

    Hello Richard,

    thank you for provided informations.
    I would like to ask, if there is anything new about flying drones in Thailand.

    I´m going to Thailand next week and I would like to bring my phantom with me.
    Thank you for any advice.

    Adam

  8. Kevin Waite says:

    Hi Richard
    You have some great photos and videos on your site and thank you for sharing them. Is there any news on the new law banning drones, hate that word, multi copters carrying cameras as I am visiting Krabi and the Bangkok area at the end of April.
    Regards
    Kevin

  9. Richard Hearne says:

    Ugh – ignore that last one. Now realise it’s the old story, but being reported on TV as “news” today.

  10. Peter says:

    HI
    i ask a question about the new thailaw about drone in Thailand
    and one tell this answer

    “I have small info for you.

    For small drone (under 20 kg) you can fly it not exceed 400 ft height from the ground.
    Within 500m eye sight.”..

    Can you confirm this info..have you heard anything about this info??
    Peter

  11. Kamil Sabatowski says:

    Hello Richard,
    do you know if Minister of Transport in Thailand approve giving a permission for aerial shooting for someone without thai license? I’m interested in recording material for my own purposes or to prepare a portfolio, including shots from beautifull landscapes in Phuket, Krabi etc (Bangkog, ministry estates, crowded area, massive protests are not under my interest regarding video shooting)

    I run small enterpreise here in Poland and video making is just one part of our services. However this still don’t give me thai permission nor license…

    I’m concerning taking my DJI Phantom 2 + gimbal with GoPro Hero 4 with me to Thailand.

    Keep enjoying flying your Phantom!

  12. Si says:

    Hi Richard,
    I am planning on a 2 month vacation in Thailand starting next week and will be exploring places where normal tourists don’t go. I am also a big fan of aerial video and photography and plan to start a YT channel to cover my trip. Currently I have a Walkera QR X350 with iLook+ HD Camera. Is it safe to carry via my flight? Just afraid as I’ve faced problems in India with Airport Customs. Do reply 🙂

  13. Andrei says:

    Hi Richard,

    I live in Bangkok and am thinking of taking my 250-size mini quad home to Canada for Christmas and back. If you’re not familiar with these, they are smaller than your Phantom, 25cm between opposite motors. Do you think I’ll have any trouble getting it back into Thailand? The quad, transmitter and tools will be in checked baggage but I’ll take my LiPo batteries in a fireproof LiPo bag in my carry-on (as seems to be standard procedure).

    Thanks in advance for any advice you may have!

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