Drone Bill unlikely to affect hobbyists

They say their models do not fall under new guidelines for use

The new guidelines for flying drones are unlikely to restrict recreational operators here, as hobbyists say their models do not fall under the restrictions listed.

The Unmanned Aircraft (Public Safety and Security) Bill, tabled in Parliament last week, aims to facilitate the growing popularity of drone use while ensuring safety and security concerns are met.

Under the Bill, expected to kick in on June 1, operators must apply for permits from the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) if they are operating drones for commercial or specialised services or flying within restricted areas. Permits are also required if the drone discharges any substances or if it weighs more than 7kg.

But drone fan Felix Oking, a Web developer, believes he and his peers will not be affected as they fly outside restricted zones and are not doing so for commercial gain. "Our drones are also lighter than 7kg - most are only about 1kg," said Mr Oking, 33, an administrator of hobby group Singapore Drones Kaki.

Models popular with recreational users, such as the DJI Phantom 2 or the Hubsan X4, weigh between 500g and 3kg.

The Bill also clears up confusion over whether operators need to apply for an aerial photography permit if they fly drones with cameras attached. A CAAS spokesman confirmed that outside the stated restrictions, hobbyists are free to fly their drones without a permit even if they carry cameras.

Enthusiasts welcome the new guidelines, which have given them a clearer idea of the dos and don'ts. "Prior to the Bill, most drone operators basically adhered to an unenforced honour code system to operate their vehicles away from dense urban and residential areas," said ex- drone developer Kelvin Ang, 28. "There is now better clarity on the size of the drones and unrestricted areas where these drones can operate."

Little has changed for commercial drone operators. Mr Zhang Weiliang, 28, founder of drone development firm Avetics, said: "We still have to apply for permits when we want to use drones for activities like surveying or commercial photography."

Drones are becoming more popular, thanks to the availability of cheaper models in recent years. Entry-level ones cost about $150, with more serious models, like the DJI Phantom 2, retailing at more than $1,300.

Mr Derrick Tan, 44, owner of Sky Hobbies Singapore, has received a rising number of inquiries over the past six months. "I've sold more than 200 drone sets in the first quarter of this year," he said. "I also get about 10 people coming in daily, browsing and asking for information on drones."

lesterh@sph.com.sg