Construction firm fined $9,000; first to be punished for operating drone outdoors without permit

Goh Leong Kiat is a company representative of LT Sambo, which was fined $9,000 and is the first company to be taken to court over the illegal use of a drone.
Goh Leong Kiat is a company representative of LT Sambo, which was fined $9,000 and is the first company to be taken to court over the illegal use of a drone.ST PHOTO: WONG KWAI CHOW

SINGAPORE - The Singapore branch of construction company LT Sambo was fined $9,000 on Monday (July 8) for operating a drone outdoors without a proper permit, the first-ever conviction and sentencing for such an offence under the law.

The company, which admitted to flying the drone on Nov 17, 2017, had pleaded guilty earlier to an offence under the Air Navigation Order.

The court heard that LT Sambo had operated the small unmanned aircraft (UA) outdoors "in the course of business" without a Class 1 activity permit.

The drone was identified as a DJI Phantom 4, weighing 1.38kg.

The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) states on its website that a Class 1 activity permit is needed for activities involving an unmanned aircraft that is "not recreational or research in nature".

These include competitive races held by private organisers and businesses providing aerial surveying or photography services.

A Class 1 activity permit is not valid without an unmanned aircraft operator permit which is also granted by the CAAS.

The operator permit is granted to applicants if they are able to ensure the safe operation of the drones.

 
 
 

Deputy Public Prosecutor Tan Yanying said that LT Sambo was engaged to carry out underground foundation works for an MRT development project along Marine Parade Road. 
The firm had successfully applied for a drone operator permit which was issued on Aug 21, 2017.

On Sept 27 that year, its quantity surveyor Mr Mohamad Wadud Al Hafiz Ponijan submitted an application to the CAAS for an activity permit to operate the drone along the road.

It was to capture aerial footage of the area for its construction work plan, the court heard.
The next day, CAAS told LT Sambo via email that the proposed flight plan involved flying over a public road with a high concentration of human and vehicular traffic.

The DPP told District Judge Luke Tan that it “posed additional potential risks of damage to property and personal safety” and that “comprehensive risk mitigating measures would be required”.

LT Sambo was asked to provide details of proposed comprehensive risk mitigating measures for the CAAS to review, before the activity permit could be granted. However, the company failed to provide any and the CAAS did not grant it the permit.

Despite this, LT Sambo’s civil engineer Mr Jung Han-Gun made two flights with the drone over Marine Parade Road on Nov 17, 2017, each lasting about 20 minutes. On each flight, the drone was flown over an approximately 2km stretch of Marine Parade Road, at a maximum height of about the 4th storey of the nearby Housing Board blocks.

The drone was on its third flight when police officers turned up.

On Monday, DPP Tan urged the court to sentence LT Sambo to a $10,000 fine. She said: “Sambo’s illegal operation of the 1.38kg drone, which would have had a ground impact speed of at least 53.34 kilometres per hour, without adequate and approved risk mitigating measures had placed unnecessary risk to safety of other persons, and damage to property.”

Defence lawyer Wong Tjen Wee told Judge Tan that safety precautions were taken when the drone was flown that day.  He also said that LT Sambo has accepted full responsibility of its actions.

In a statement on Monday, the CAAS said it “will not hesitate to take enforcement action against UA operators who contravene regulations”.

First-time offenders can be fined up to $20,000. Repeat offenders can be jailed for up to 15 months and fined up to $40,000.