Drones patrol skies over fire-prone areas in Indonesia; air pollution in Palembang improves

A forest fire seen from a helicopter operated by the National Agency for Disaster Management over Langgam district in Riau province.
A forest fire seen from a helicopter operated by the National Agency for Disaster Management over Langgam district in Riau province.PHOTO: REUTERS

SINGAPORE - Indonesia has launched two drones to patrol the skies over fire-prone areas in a bid to give emergency workers real-time alerts on hot spots, allowing them to respond faster to the fires and put them out before they spread to other areas.

The haze crisis, caused by fires burning over dry peatland in Sumatra and Kalimantan, has spread across Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia, as well as parts of the Philippines and Thailand in recent weeks.

The Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) in South Sumatra, one of the worst hit areas this year, registered significant improvements with PSI levels in its capital city of Palembang, falling to 219 at 1pm on Monday after peaking at 819 in pre-dawn hours.

But in Palangkaraya, the capital of Central Kalimantan where schools were shut for more than three weeks, the PSI was at 1,059, way above hazardous levels.

The two drones, owned by state-owned aircraft manufacturer Dirgantara Indonesia, were deployed earlier on Monday (Oct 12), Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Luhut Pandjaitan told The Straits Times.

The specifications of the drones were not revealed but previous reports had indicated that Indonesia has drones that can operate up to a range of 200km.

The drones, which were deployed in South Sumatra's Ogan Komering Ilir regency where the concentration of the hot spots was detected, can fly for about three hours before they need to return to base to be recharged.

The Indonesian government has in the past week started multilateral firefighting operations involving Singapore, Malaysia, Russia, China and Australia. But low-visibility caused by the thick haze has hampered some of the waterbombing and cloud-seeding operations over fires in Sumatra.