Of course, if you’re not in Thailand, this probably won’t interest you. And anyways, it’s not a definitive guide on how to register, but more a personal reflection on how I achieved it, and on drone registration in general.
First off; I’m not opposed to the registration of the larger drones … ones above a certain size or weight limit. I don’t know exactly where that cut-off point should be, but it does seem a little silly to have to register a drone that’s smaller than your hand, and one you probably would never fly outside anyways.
So, I think it’s important to ask why? What’s the purpose of registration? What problem are we trying to solve?
I assume, if a drone pilot does something stupid like flying in controlled airspace, crashing into buildings or people – and there are those who do these things, often quite deliberately – the authorities should be able to trace the owners and mete out some kind of punishment. Now, unless the owner sticks around and admits the error, it would be tough for the authorities to track down the owner, unless there is some kind of national, or even international database.
In the case of expensive professional drones though, the registration process is really unnecessary. Something like a DJI drone cannot enter controlled airspace, and cannot fly outside national or even regional limits. It’s programmed not to. Geofencing it’s called. Those no-fly areas are automatically updated each time you turn on the drone. And DJI automatically knows where you are flying. That’s why they’ve been banned by the US military. All your flying data ends up on a server in China!
My Xiaomi Mi 4K also logs all flying data, and I assume this too ends up in China. So if the authorities find my crashed drone, they only need to provide the serial number to determine both the owner and details of where the drone was flying.
But, the data logging is not true of all drones, so I guess the registration does have some purpose. Plus, it’s probably easier to check a local database than having to contact someone in China.
So, what did I have to do?
Well, it’s been illegal to fly an unregistered drone in Thailand since January 9th. So, I haven’t. The penalties are a fine of Bt100,000 or 5 years in jail!
I downloaded the simple registration forms, filled them out with the help of a friend who could read them, and trotted along to the local police station. I’ll be honest. I expected them to say “You can’t do that here.” But they didn’t. They knew exactly what to do.
Now, you could also go to an office of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission or the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand. But why would you? Police Stations are everywhere.
I had all the right paperwork. Copy of passport, rental agreement, photos of drone from all angles, serial number, weight, size, etc., in fact everything that was needed to register a drone. But there was one problem. I wasn’t registered at the Police Station. I didn’t know I had to be.
I explained that I was registered with Immigration and showed them that paperwork, and they were happy with that. But I still needed to be registered with the local police. “What if Immigration asks us to find you? We wouldn’t know where you are” they said. I had to bite my tongue to stop myself saying “Since Immigration knows were I am, they can tell you.” Too logical.
So, it took a couple of days to pull together more paperwork to get myself registered before getting my drone registered. But none of it was complicated and it was all conducted in an amiable manner.
It involved lots of paperwork, lots of photocopies, lots of behind the scenes chitchat, but eventually everything was securely filed in a large blue folder labelled “DRONES”. And that was that. As far as I could tell, nothing was entered into a computer. The only record of my registration is in said blue folder. So if I crash in the next Province, I don’t think there’s any way I could be traced, which left me wondering – what’s the point?
I didn’t even end up with any proof. I asked, and was told “Don’t worry, no one will bother you.” Which left me with the feeling that the police are doing exactly as they’ve been told – registering drones if someone asks – but no more. Now, this could have been step one. Behind the scenes maybe all my data is now in a National database, but I seriously doubt it. Maybe one day. The best I could end up with was a scribbled name and phone number of the policeman, which I have photographed with my phone. So, if anyone challenges me, I can say “Call this guy.” But I assume, as stated, no one will bother me.
Now, if you are reading this as a potential tourist in Thailand, and wondering if you can legally fly your drone here, I’d have to say “No, you can’t.” There doesn’t seem to be any way for a tourist to be able to present the needed paperwork. You need to be legally resident. You could ignore the rules, and assume “no one will bother you” but keep in mind that phrase “five years in jail.” That could seriously upset your vacation!
There’s a useful article, along with downloadable registration forms HERE.