Drone photos of aircraft at Kuala Lumpur International Airport spark outrage

A plane flying past a control tower at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA). -- PHOTO: AFP
A plane flying past a control tower at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA). -- PHOTO: AFP

PETALING JAYA (The Star/Asia News Network) - Malaysia's civil aviation authorities warned on Tuesday that the unauthorised flying of drones or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) near airports is strictly prohibited, after photographs of aircraft approaching the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) taken by aerial drones sparked outrage.

Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) director-general Azharuddin Abdul Rahman said those who wish to operate drones or UAVs in Malaysian airspace have to obtain approval from his agency, state news agency Bernama reported.

"DCA is concerned with the recent development of drone operations for recreational or commercial purposes," Azharuddin said in a statement.

"These drones or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) have encroached into airports which may disrupt the safety of flight operations." 

A person who identifies himself as Edward Chew had posted on Facebook images allegedly taken by Instagram user "yengnasir" using an aerial drone of Saudi Air and AirAsia flights approaching the KLIA runaway in Sepang.

It is unclear how far the drones were from the aircraft.

The Instagram account has since been deleted. It is also uncertain when the original photos were uploaded by the user.

Chew said in his post: "What if at that moment it decided to fly itself towards the plane? Another headline worldwide for Malaysia airlines?" His post has been shared more than 1,500 times.

Under DCA's regulations issued in 2008, the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) under 20kg in controlled airspace or within an aerodrome traffic zone is prohibited without the permission of the air traffic control unit.

"This post is served to remind/educate everyone to have common sense while handing flying machines, even the non-flyers," added Chew.

Drones have become popular in Malaysia among photographers, with a reasonable drone for professional work available for about RM3,000 (S$1,129) although "cheaper drones" can be purchased for as little as RM500.

In Singapore, the Civil Aviation Authority does not allow unmanned airships to be flown within 5 km of an airport.