Up until now, Japan has been able to combine widespread commercial UAS operations with a very “hands off” attitude towards regulatory restrictions. All of that may be about to change.
Last week, a small UAS was landed on the roof of the Japanese Prime Minister’s residence. That UAS was carrying a small amount of cesium-134, a dangerous radioactive material. It turns out that the UAS was flown by Yasuo Yamamoto, who was protesting plans to restart some of Japan’s nuclear reactors that were shut down in the wake of the 2011 tsunami that damaged the Fukushimia nuclear facility. Yamamoto apparently traveled to Fukushima and dug up sand with trace amounts of radiation for the purpose of “delivering” it by drone.
The fact that the flight does not violate any of Japan’s civil aviation regulations has led to a reassessment of how UAS are handled in Japan. The likely outcome will be more flight restrictions. The only real question is how far this new clamp-down will extend.
This incident highlights one of the inescapable truths about regulating. Nothing focuses the minds of regulators more than panicked politicians, and nothing panics politicians more than a high profile accident or incident, especially when it strikes close to home, as it literally did to the Japanese Prime Minister.
As we proceed with our own small UAS rulemaking in this country, it is worth keeping in mind that everything could change literally in an instant. A terrorist attack or airplane crash involving a UAS would completely change the debate from “how do we make UAS use open and acceptable,” to “how do we control and restrict it?” So none of us should get too comfortable with the way things are going. After all, it only takes one accident for everything to change.
(Originally posted April 28, 2015)