KUALA LUMPUR: Negligence, indiscipline, not conforming to rules and using improper and inferior quality radio-controlled model aircraft are some of the reasons that lead to accidents. A veteran radio-controlled enthusiast, Carlos Muniandy, 58, said accidents were not rare, but this was the first time he had heard of a fatality involving the sport.
"Many accidents go unreported. Last year, there were two cases where the operators were blinded. The victims were hit in the eye by the rotor blades of model helicopters. Another victim escaped serious injuries when his helicopter exploded."
Muniandy said the number of operators had grown in the past five years, with an estimated 20,000 enthusiasts nationwide.
He said this was because the RC aircraft was more affordable now as most were brought in from China.
The China models are sold between RM700 and RM1,000 each. The models which come from the United States, Europe, Taiwan or Ja-pan cost at least five times more.
"Usually, the sport is suitable for those above 14. However, these days, children as young as 4 can be seen operating the aircraft," he said.
Muniandy said the sport was regulated by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission for radio frequency licences, and the Department of Civil Aviation for flights above 66m above ground level.
"A large number of the operators fly haphazardly. The cheaper models they buy do not conform to rules and regulations. This makes it difficult to buy insurance for the aircraft and the operator," he said, adding that in other countries, operators and their aircraft were insured.
Muniandy said radio-controlled model aircraft was a fantastic sport and hobby if operated properly.
"There are valuable technical skills, aerobatics and aviation knowledge that can be useful for university students."
Each aircraft, he said, could fly for about 15 minutes at a time before they ran out of fuel.
The RC model aircraft usually flies on petrol, nitro methane or a diesel combo (of ether, kerosene and castor oil).
The operating cost of a model aircraft is about RM5 an hour.
"Sadly, despite the large number of individual operators and a dozen-odd clubs, there is no proper body to regulate the sport owing to bickering and uncooperative members," Muniandy added.