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.
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.
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.