TASHKENT -- Uzbekistan recently began an effort to make drone use legal and free from possible terrorism.
Effective September 14, all unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) owners are required by law to obtain a permit and a serial number to fly drones, as well as to demonstrate their skills.
The reform ends an interlude starting in early 2015 when authorities completely banned drones for security reasons, affecting parts of the economy, particularly the model aircraft industry.
Authorities who ordered that ban were reacting to warnings that have cropped up over the years that terrorists could turn drones into cheap carriers of bombs. Oxford Research Group's Remote Control Project issued such a finding in January.
A real example
The Uzbekistani authorities had more reason for alarm when a still-unidentified drone crossed into Uzbekistani airspace December 16, 2014.
"Uzbekistani border guard units in Sokh District, Fergana Province, saw an unidentified flying device violate the country's airspace," the National Security Service (SNB) said in an official report. "It flew into Uzbekistan ... at a height of 200 to 250 metres and departed in an hour."
Within weeks, on January 1, 2015, the government banned the import, sale and use of UAVs weighing less than 2,000kg.
The sweeping policy adversely affected harmless users.
Before the prohibition, "drones were used mostly by photo- and videographers as an affordable way to take aerial and/or art photos," Tashkent-based model aircraft operator Dmitriy Saprykin told Caravanserai.
"Model aircraft enthusiasts and children playing with toy helicopters and planes ... found this ban incomprehensible," Saprykin said.
"My entire business instantaneously stood on the brink of failure," Tashkent wedding photographer Malik Ibragimov recalled, citing a US $5,000 (15m UZS) drone that he had bought in 2014, which the 2015 law made illegal. "I welcome the new law, which allows me to rejoin the market."
Realising the need to adjust policy, the government September 14 enacted a limited legalisation of drones, meant to affect only criminals and terrorists.
"The new document ... creates a rigid distinction among toys, model aircraft and UAVs," State Flight Safety Oversight Inspectorate official Shokhimardon Faizullayev told Caravanserai.
"If the device has an autopilot function or built-in navigation or has a still or video camera, then it's considered a UAV and requires authorisation by the State Flight Safety Oversight Inspectorate to operate," he said. "Toys and model aircraft can now be used without authorisation, as long as [users] observe the rules."
Uzbekistani citizens seeking authorisation for a UAV will have to present technical documentation and file a request with the inspectorate, Faizullayev said.
"The commission will inspect the drone, enter it into a register and assign it a five-digit serial number," he said. "UAV operators must always be Uzbekistani citizens and undergo training."
"Foreign drones will require ... special permission," he added.