Will 'shoot first, investigate later' approach work to safeguard airport operations?

An information board showing flight arrival information at Changi Airport Terminal 2.
An information board showing flight arrival information at Changi Airport Terminal 2.ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

The recent incidents of drone incursion at Changi Airport call for tougher actions on incident response from the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore and other government agencies.

Given that the first incident occurred on June 18, it would have been fair to assume that if another incident were to happen again, the response would be quicker or more effective. However, on June 24, when the second incursion occurred, 18 flights were delayed and another seven were diverted.

The drones today are sophisticated and can be operated at a range of 5km to 8km, giving rise to the possibility that they could even come from elsewhere.

By and large, I believe the community of drone hobbyists in Singapore is responsible, and it could be the act of one or two bad hats.

If two incidents happen within a span of one week, a possible motivation would be a deliberate and daring attempt to cause disruption to airport operations, and this is a very serious offence.

I doubt the mandatory registration of drones would have any impact on these offenders; if they wanted to commit such audacious acts, they would probably fly a non-registered drone that cannot be traced back to the operator/owner, and be prepared to cause mayhem at the expense of losing their drones.

Disruption of airport operations causes a great deal of inconvenience to passengers and airport workers.

Today, there are a slew of countermeasures to bring a menacing drone down:

• jamming signals to render it inoperable;

• netting it; and

• shooting it down.

In the case at Gatwick Airport in December last year, about 1,000 flights were disrupted affecting 140,000 passengers.

I wonder if the authorities can adopt a "shoot first, investigate later" approach, so that the priority is always to resume airport operations rather than trace where a drone is coming from, which can take time. Suspending operations or closing the runway just to catch the culprit may not be beneficial to airline passengers, in view of how busy Changi Airport is.

To nab culprits, round-the-clock surveillance, involving both humans and technology, may be necessary all around the airport vicinity as no one can tell when such an incursion will happen again.

Chan Swee Wing

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 11, 2019, with the headline 'Will 'shoot first, investigate later' approach work to safeguard airport operations?'. Print Edition | Subscribe