Stiffer regulations for drones here
Drones operating in Singapore will have to be registered soon while the authorities consider stiffer penalties for errant operators
All drones operating in Singapore will have to be registered - possibly by the year end or earlier - and the Government is mulling stiffer penalties for errant drone users.
Pilots of large and more capable drones will also need to be licensed, Senior Minister of State for Transport Lam Pin Min told Parliament yesterday.
These measures come in the wake of the recent drone intrusions at Changi Airport, which delayed 55 flights and caused eight diversions.
Responding to questions posed by seven MPs, Dr Lam said mandatory registration will ensure drone operators conduct their activities responsibly.
There will also be stricter enforcement actions, he said, citing the two men who were charged last week for flying drones too close to Paya Lebar Air Base, and a third case currently under investigation.
"By and large, the community of drone enthusiasts fly their drones responsibly... However, there will be a few selfish and irresponsible persons who operate in flagrant disregard of the law," he added.
It is illegal to fly drones within 5km of airports or military airbases, or at altitudes above 61m, without a permit.
Offenders can be jailed for up to a year and/or fined up to $20,000.
Dr Lam revealed little about the incidents on the nights of June 18 and 24, the first confirmed drone intrusions into Changi Airport.
Citing ongoing police investigations, he told Mr Ang Wei Neng (Jurong GRC) that it is too early to pre-judge the profile of the perpetrator and urged him to give the authorities time to complete their probe.
Dr Lam said: "We have learnt from the experiences of other airports that identifying the perpetrators can be challenging and will take time."
While the impact of the intrusions has been moderate, he warned that such incidents can severely affect airport operations, like with Gatwick Airport.
Drone intrusions last December caused the London airport to shut down for three days, affecting about 140,000 passengers and 1,000 flights.
After that incident, a standard operating procedure was worked out and table-top exercises were conducted to ensure Singapore could cope with similar intrusions, Dr Lam said.
"We have managed to minimise disruption to runway as well as airport operations," he added in response to Mr Lim Biow Chuan (Mountbatten SMC), who said the counter measures deployed at Changi seemed inadequate.
Dr Lam said counter drone capabilities have since been strengthened, and the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore and Changi Airport Group will increase them over the medium-term.
When asked by Workers' Party Non-Constituency MP Dennis Tan about geo-fencing technology, which can keep drones out of restricted areas, Dr Lam said the authorities assessed that this capability was disabled in the recent incidents.
He also highlighted the limitations of a proposed central flight management system to monitor drone activity, as it can work only on cooperative operators.
Instead, relying on existing sensors to detect illegal activity is of utmost importance, and a risk-stratified approach to enforcement, prioritising certain areas, is needed, he added.
Dr Lam said: "As with other forms of new technology, finding the right balance in terms of regulations will take time, particularly since drone technology continues to evolve very quickly."
In response to The New Paper's queries last month, a spokesman for Chinese drone manufacturer DJI said the company supports reasonable registration and education requirements for drone operators.
The company, which has more than half of the global market share, also urged manufacturers to implement systems that can provide location and serial number information of their drones to the authorities, which DJI already has.
Addressing recent drone intrusions, DJI's spokesman said: "The company is always prepared to offer technical assistance... and comply with appropriate requests from law enforcement and aviation regulation officials."