Saravanan adds that should drones be used in accordance with the guide frrom the Department of Agriculture, they can also lower the use of these pesticides and increase yields. — Image by user6702303 on Freepik
Last year, the government announced the Malaysia Drone Technology Action Plan 2022-2030 (MDTAP30), which aims to further develop the field.
This comes as the industry is expected to create 100,000 job opportunities and contribute RM50.71bil to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 2030.
The initiative is headed by the Malaysian Research Accelerator for Technology & Innovation (Mranti) under the Ministry of Science, Technology & Innovation (Mosti).
According to Saravanan Chettiar Letchumenan, CEO of drone insurance and consultancy provider VStream Revolution, drone adoption has become part of a rising trend in the country.
“Drones solve a few key things – one is that it solves a shortage of manpower in agriculture. When the MCO (movement control order) hit, farmers faced a labour shortage.
“That’s when the adoption of drones became very high for the farmers. Now they can use the drones to (spray) fertilisers and pesticides on their farms more effectively (and) faster,” he says.
Saravanan adds that should drones be used in accordance with the guide frrom the Department of Agriculture, they can also lower the use of these pesticides and increase yields.
The use of drones in agriculture also allows for a larger coverage area and does not require onsite operation.
He also pointed out its usefulness in high-risk environments that could otherwise endanger human workers.
“When you want to do an inspection of a bridge, or even a high rise building, you have to erect scaffolding and then you have to get a lot of skilled workers to go up there and do the inspection.
“That is dangerous work. Now with drones, you eliminate this risk factor.
“Using drones during these inspections allows you to make faster decisions, because the camera is high resolution and pictures can be captured to do post-analysis as well.
“For inaccessible areas, like confined spaces, instead of sending a man where it’s also dangerous, you can send a drone.
“So having all this as an advantage, drone adoption has become a big part of Malaysian companies,” Saravanan says.
Drones have also been deployed in disaster response efforts with the Drone Services Special Emergency Response Team (PTK2Dron), functioning in collaboration with agencies such as the Fire Department, National Disaster Management Agency, Department of Survey and Mapping, and Malaysian Space Agency.
The road ahead
But despite making headway in the adoption of drone technology, Drone Racing Association Malaysia (DRAM) president Fitri Reza believes that more work still has to be done in order to achieve the objectives laid out in MDTAP30.
Fitri Reza believes that more work still has to be done in order to achieve the objectives laid out in MDTAP30.— AZHAR MAHFOF/The Star
“We need to start things from the school level, not just the university level, because there is no syllabus that covers drones in schools.
“The industry is expected to contribute RM50.71bil to the GDP and create 100,000 jobs by 2030.
“But in achieving that, we also need to have 100,000 workers to fill those jobs, so how are we going to achieve that and bring the pilots, technicians, and programmers in?” he says.
Fitri Reza believes that recreational drone use, such as racing under the DRAM’s own Malaysia Drone League, can help develop familiarity and drone-adjacent skills.
The MDTAP30 also seeks to revise the process to acquire a drone flight permit, which currently involves submitting an application form alongside supporting documents to the Civil Aviation Authority of Malaysia (CAAM) at least two weeks before the proposed flight date.
“Under the Malaysian Civil Aviation Regulations 2016 (MCAR 2016), it clearly states that every drone flight requires a valid permit.
“If you are flying a drone, whether it’s for commercial or non-commercial use, you are to get permission (from CAAM) first, only then can you fly,” says Saravanan.
While this would be feasible for industrial use where drone uses are long term and planned out far in advance, this can be challenging for those who work on tighter timelines, such as drone videography services, which may receive more immediate requests for footage from clients.
“It can be very tough for them, since their client may require the footage by a hard deadline, maybe in just a few days, but considering the permit application process, they would not be able to do that since they can’t operate their drones without a permit,” says Fitri Reza.
Currently, those flying without a permit can be fined up to RM50,000, face a maximum three years of jail time, or a combination of the two, while corporate entities can incur a fine of up to RM100,000.
The issue was previously acknowledged back in September 2022 by CAAM and the then Transport Minister, Datuk Seri Dr Wee Ka Siong, with an announcement of the introduction of an online drone flight permit application system.
According to the announcement, the system is scheduled to be implemented by this month, while also functioning as a platform for drone ownership registration as well.
Having such a system in place is expected to reduce the drone flight permit application period to just a single day.
According to Saravanan, drone adoption has become a trend in the country, helping to resolve manpower shortages in the agriculture industry and in high risk environments that may endanger human workers. — VStream Revolution
“The first stage is all drone users have to register to have an ID and also to establish that we are the user or the owner of a drone.
“Once that is done and the nationwide Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) system is up, there will be open category spaces that users can go to and fly their drones,” says Saravanan.
The UTM is one part of the goals of MDTAP30, which would serve to monitor drone use, ensure that drone regulations are followed, and to facilitate the growth of the drone tech industry in the country.
“Like when you are driving a car, there are the slow lanes and fast lanes, you know that you have to signal to switch – that’s already part of our day-to-day.
“It’s the same for the airspace, there are these rules and regulations to follow to make sure that when we are sharing the airspace, the safety of our operation is taken care of within the rules and regulations that have been stipulated,” he says.