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Japan's Policy on Unmanned Aircraft Systems

by Shinichi Yamada


Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), such as drones, are used in various fields including aerial photography, pesticide dispersion, and inspection of infrastructure, and they are expected to be utilized even more in the future. On the other hand, concern about operational safety has been rising.

This article introduces efforts and policies that have been implemented to ensure the safe operation of UAS in Japan.


The Civil Aeronautics Law (CAL) defines “UAS” as any airplane, rotorcraft, glider or airship which cannot accommodate any person on board and can be remotely or automatically piloted (excluding those lighter than 200 grams (about 0.44 pounds). The weight of a UAS includes that of its battery.).

It requires any person who intends to operate a UAŞ in the following airspaces to obtain permission from the Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism of Japan to ensure the safety of manned aircraft and persons and/or properties on the surface of the ground or water.

  • Airspace that is over 150 meters (about 490 feet) above the surface of ground or water.

  • Airspace around airports. (Specifically, airspaces above the approach, horizontal, transitional, extended approach, conical, and outer horizontal surfaces)

  • Airspace above Densely Inhabited Districts (DID) defined and published by the Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications. (Those areas where population density is larger than 4,000 people per square kilometer (about 10,360 people per square mile) are defined as DID in general.)

The use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems in various fields has grown, including in agriculture and pesticide distribution.

It also requires all of the UAS operators to follow the operational conditions listed below, unless approved by the Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism of Japan.

  • Operation of UAS are to be in the daytime.

  • Operation of UAS must only be conducted within Visual Lines of Sight (VLOS).

  • 30 meters (about 98 feet) of operational distance between UA and persons and properties on the surface of the ground or water must be maintained.

  • Do not operate UAS over event sites where many people gather.

  • Do not transport hazardous materials such as explosives by UAS.

  • Do not drop any objects from UAS

In addition to the CAL, legislation has also been put in place to prevent dangerous UAS from approaching important facilities in the country by air.

An aerial photo by UAS of this concert would not be permissible in Japan, as they are not allowed to be

flown at night or over places where people gather.


The Japanese government has created a roadmap and made efforts to expand the use of UAS in public-private partnerships. According to the roadmap, the goal is to operate UAS beyond VLOS in uninhabited areas, such as remote islands and mountainous areas, by FY 2022, and later to operate UAS beyond VLOS in DID. There are various issues to consider to bring about such flights. Therefore, the following four working groups have been established, and many stakeholders, including government, industry, and academia, are involved.

WG1: UAS/Owner Registration

WG2: Ensuring UAS Safety

WG3: Skill Assurances of Remote Pilots and Flight Dispatchers

WG4: UAS Traffic Management System (UTMS)

As part of these efforts, an amendment of CAL will be submitted to the regular Diet in 2020 that requires the registration of UAS in FY 2021. Under the new system, information such as the names of owners, users, aircrafts, phone numbers, etc. must be registered online. When registration is completed, UAS IDs can be acquired, and the UAS ID has to be marked on the UAS itself. Any unregistered flight will be fined.

The policy for UAS requires that regulatory studies by the government and technology development by manufacturers and academic institutions be carried out simultaneously. While looking to US and European UAS systems as models, it is expected that regulations will be expanded to enable further use of UAS in Japan.

January 2020

Feature Article

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