Shwedagon Pagoda trustees institute a no drone zone
Eight drones have been seized since the pagoda’s board of trustees banned any unmanned aerial vehicles (UVAs) from their airspace late last year. They are now threatening legal action against fliers who flout the ban and do not obtian prior permission.
SHWEDAGON Pagoda is now a no drone zone. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are not welcome to fly over the famed pagoda or its grounds without prior permission, the pagoda trustee committee announced at a September 30 press conference.
The board of trustees said the ban has been in place for a year, but has not been widely publicised so far. This has not deterred maintenance staff from nabbing drones that trespass over the pagoda’s airspace, however.
Drones have increasingly been wandering over Shwedagon, sometimes blown that direction from the neighbouring Peoples’ Park and Happy World, said U Thaung Htike, a trustee committee member.
“So far, we have kept the seized drones after we catch them flying in the air around us,” he said. “But the committee has not yet decided what to do with these seized drones and whether it is right to give them back to the owner or not.” The pagoda is currently holding on to eight drones seized over the last year.
Drones are on dicey legal ground in Myanmar, which lacks regulations designating where drones can fly and who can flying them.
Last year, to fill the legislative vacuum, the government began establishing interim protocols in the interest of public safety, including a requirement to register with the Ministry of Transport’s Department of Civil Aviation. The DCA has said it is responsible for all matters regarding drones and UAVs, but it was not possible to confirm with the department over the weekend if it was aware of Shwedagon’s ban.
Trustee member U Thaung Htike said the drone ban was instituted one year ago to preserve the integrity of a national treasure. Drones, as electronic devices, could negatively impact some aspects of religious observance at the pagoda, he added.
“Although the restriction has been in place since September 2015, visitors do not seem to know about it yet, so we are sharing the message about this restriction through the media,” he said.
“We did an awareness campaign during the last year, and put up notices around the pagoda. But it seems those measures were not effective.”
U Thaung Htike added that the relevant township administrators in Yangon – specifically those in Bahan, Dagon and Sanchaung – have been sent notices about the ban.
West district administrative officer U San Minn said that disciplinary action will have to be taken in order to ensure that the ancient monument remains a protected zone of Yangon.
He added that any drone fliers caught flouting the Shwedagon ban could be seen as violating section 188 of the Penal Code for disobeying a public servant’s order. The charge is punishable with up to a month in prison and a fine. Additionally, any unlicensed drones could be considered a violation of the import and export trading act, he said.
Around the world, drone use has taken off, typically with legislation having to play catch-up. From survey projects to aerial footage expeditions, drones have already been used in a variety of projects in Myanmar, including by experts looking for information about flooded areas, and by hobbyists seeking a bird’s eye view.
Lawyer U San Myint Aung said that
‘The committee has not yet decided what to do with these seized drones, or whether it is right to give them back to the owner or not.’
U Than Htike Pagoda trustee committee member
special drone legislation is currently being drafted, and that when it emerges, Shwedagon Pagoda’s ban may need a special section under the law.
Trustee member U Thaung Htike acknowledged that there may be some legitimate reasons in the future to fly drones over Shwedagon, and that if people wish to fly any UAVs over the pagoda they should seek prior permission so as to avoid losing their aircraft and potentially facing retributive action.
“We [the committee] have also used drones for recording footage of historical objects,” he said. “So we understand there are uses for them. If any person wishing to fly a drone here can present a reasonable intention for doing so, they can inform they committee of their request and we will consider it.”
The pagoda trustees committee has banned drones from flying over Shwedagon Pagoda.