Firm fined $9k for operating drone without proper permit, in a first

LT Sambo's representative, contracts manager Goh Leong Kiat. The firm admitted to flying the drone on Nov 17, 2017.
LT Sambo's representative, contracts manager Goh Leong Kiat. The firm admitted to flying the drone on Nov 17, 2017.

The Singapore branch of construction company LT Sambo was fined $9,000 yesterday 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 to an offence under the Air Navigation Order. The court heard that LT Sambo had operated the small unmanned aircraft (UA) outdoors, identified as a DJI Phantom 4 and weighing 1.38kg, without a Class 1 activity permit which is issued by the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS).

The permit is needed for activities involving an unmanned aircraft that are "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 e-mail that the proposed flight plan involved flying over a public road with a high concentration of human and vehicular traffic.

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 fourth storey of the nearby Housing Board blocks. The drone was on its third flight when police officers turned up.

In a statement yesterday, the CAAS said it "will not hesitate to take enforcement action against UA operators who contravene regulations".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 09, 2019, with the headline 'Firm fined $9k for operating drone without proper permit, in a first'. Subscribe