Drone disruptions at Changi Airport: SAF providing help not a long-term solution, says Ng Eng Hen

A sign at Changi Beach warning against the flying of drones and other activities that would compromise safety at the nearby Changi Airport.
A sign at Changi Beach warning against the flying of drones and other activities that would compromise safety at the nearby Changi Airport. ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

SINGAPORE - The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) has been providing assistance over the recent drone disruptions at Changi Airport and is working closely with the police to arrest the errant operators, said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen.

Noting that there is a whole-of-government effort to deal with the issue, Dr Ng said he was glad the local drone community recognises that the errant operators must be called to task.

"Nothing untoward has happened yet, and you really don't want to wait for something catastrophic before you act.

"So we are working closely with the police, and when we apprehend these errant operators, I think that a strong signal must be sent that this can have very bad consequences, if you engage in these activities," he said in his annual interview last Friday (June 28) ahead of SAF Day on Monday.

Dr Ng was asked about how the SAF is stepping up its effort to counter drones in the light of recent incidents.

On June 24, a combination of unauthorised drone activities and bad weather delayed some 15 flight departures and three arrivals, while another seven flights were diverted.

Unauthorised drones also delayed 37 flights and affected the operations of one of Changi's two runways for short periods from 11pm on June 18 until the morning of June 19.

The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) has said that investigations are ongoing.

 
 
 

The SAF has deployed its assets to support the CAAS-led efforts at Changi Airport, and will continue to do so, said Dr Ng.

"But that's not a long-term solution. It's not even the most economical solution because, as you can imagine, our SAF systems are built with specifications to deal with much more," he added.

The Republic of Singapore Air Force had previously showed its anti-drone capabilities, such as a jammer gun and a drone catcher system that uses a net to catch them.

Dr Ng said the CAAS has asked the SAF, particularly the Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA) and DSO National Laboratories, for professional advice.

"We have told the CAAS what is out there in the market that they can procure if they want it quickly. What kind of defences they need, and it's up to CAAS to know what they need," he added.

"So CAAS is well aware of what is out there, because we've given the recommendations."

Dr Ng said that it is difficult to shut down the airport airspace, as the consequences are very large.

"You have to size the problem so that your solutions don't cost more (and) are not more painful than the disease. And I think if CAAS has to close it down for a period of time, it's very painful to your civilian traffic. So I think you need a number of levers," he added.