First person found guilty of flying drone without permit fined $2,000

Ed Chen Junyuan, who pleaded guilty last month, flew a drone near Paya Lebar Air Base on June 26.
Ed Chen Junyuan, who pleaded guilty last month, flew a drone near Paya Lebar Air Base on June 26.

A 37-year-old man was fined $2,000 yesterday for unlawfully flying a drone near Paya Lebar Air Base without the proper permits.

Singaporean Ed Chen Junyuan, who pleaded guilty last month, was the first person to be convicted of the offence of flying a drone without a permit. He flew the drone within 5km of the airbase. It was spotted around Punggol Field Walk at around 9.30pm on June 26.

Yesterday, District Judge Ng Cheng Thiam said that general deterrence was needed because of the rise in the number of such cases, adding that a stiff fine would deter others from committing a similar offence.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Dwayne Lum had earlier told the court that Chen should not be let off with "a slap on the wrist", as he was piloting the drone without the required permit and with prior knowledge that an airbase was nearby.

DPP Lum, who urged the judge to sentence Chen to a fine of $3,000, added: "Unregulated operation of drones, especially within close proximity to airbases, poses serious consequences for aircraft safety.

"In addition, unregulated drone operation also poses a safety risk especially if done in an irresponsible fashion, endangering not just aircraft but persons and property."

Defence lawyer Josephus Tan, however, had pleaded for the court to impose a fine of between $500 and $1,000.

Last month, Mr Tan told the court that Chen was operating a drone without electronic "geofencing" technology, which allows for clear demarcation of no-fly zones. The lawyer added that without this technology, Chen would not have been likely to know exactly how close he was to the airbase.

Mr Tan also argued that Chen flew the drone only at a height of 6m, around two storeys of an HDB block, and this could not have posed any danger to air traffic control or military aircraft.

He had said: "There was no actual harm whatsoever and minimal potential harm. (Chen's) case is therefore wholly unlike the two drone incursions at Changi Airport in June 2019, whereby runway operations and flights were indeed delayed."

First-time offenders caught flying a drone without a valid permit could be fined up to $20,000.

Repeat offenders could be jailed for up to 15 months and fined up to $40,000.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 05, 2019, with the headline First person found guilty of flying drone without permit fined $2,000. Subscribe