More drone users taking their passion to the skies in recent years

Drone Flying Academy instructor Chua He An (second from right) conducting a practical lesson near Sin Ming Lane on July 20, 2022. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - More people here are signing up for classes to learn how to fly drones safely, amid growing interest in unmanned aircraft for both recreational and commercial purposes.

Drone enthusiasts can sign up for beginner courses to learn the fundamentals of flying a drone, or more advanced ones to obtain the Unmanned Aircraft Pilot Licence (UAPL), which is needed to fly drones commercially.

Educational institutions and private academies that offer such courses told The Straits Times their students are mostly males aged from seven to 70.

Drone Flying Academy founder Richie Lim said about 60 people sign up for his courses every month, triple the number in 2019. About 80 per cent are recreational users and the rest are commercial users seeking the UAPL.

"More people are into aerial videography, as it provides a bird's eye view of places. People are also showing these high-view perspectives of buildings like MBS (Marina Bay Sands) on their social media pages, motivating others to learn drone flying," said Mr Lim, who started his academy in March 2019.

Recreational user Edmond Seet, 54, attended a Drone Flying Academy basic course in October 2021, two or three years after buying a drone that he had problems controlling.

"After the course, I find it much easier to control my drone and even got to play with some more advanced drones at the academy," said the sales director.

Mr Foo Wing Yong, deputy director of engineering services in the School of Engineering at the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) College Central, who oversees drone courses, said there has been an increase in registrations for its courses since 2021.

ITE currently offers nine courses with a range of difficulty levels. Two or three classes for each course are held every quarter, with the number of students ranging from three to 16. The courses are always fully subscribed, said ITE.

This is compared with only one or two classes in each course per quarter in early 2021.

Freelance cartoonist Ang Ting Fang, 33, took three drone courses at ITE between last December and this June, which taught her the basic movements in controlling drones as well as the laws and regulations of using such devices.

"I wanted to get a licence to do commercial work, like being a pilot for hire. If companies want to hire pilots to survey rooftops, I will be able to take on those jobs," she said.

Ms Ang Ting Fang took three drone courses at ITE between last December and this June. PHOTO: ITE

A spokesman for Ngee Ann Polytechnic said it has increased the number of runs of its four-day Drone Ops for Construction Supervision & Monitoring/Building Inspection (Basic) course for adult learners, from just one when it was introduced in 2019 to seven in 2021.

When Transport Minister S. Iswaran launched Singapore's first and only designated flying area at Pandan Reservoir on July 17, he said there has been a very strong uptick in the activity levels of the unmanned aircraft community here, with a significant rise in recreational use.

He also noted the number of registered unmanned aircraft in Singapore has increased fourfold.

Hobbyists flying a drone at Pandan Reservoir on July 17, 2022. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

Mr Tan Kah Han, chief technology officer at the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) and senior director at CAAS' Unmanned Systems Group, told ST there have been 16,095 unmanned aircraft registrations as at June 30 this year, compared with 4,158 on April 1, 2020.

Examples of unmanned aircraft include drones, radio-controlled aircraft and remote-controlled kites. Unmanned aircraft associations and interest groups have also seen a spike in new members in recent times.

Mr Danny Quek, who belongs to the Universal Drones Singapore Facebook group, noticed it has had new joiners "almost every week", with beginners asking where they can fly drones or buy accessories.

Multirotor Association of Singapore secretary Alvin Yeoh said it has more than 7,000 members now, almost a sevenfold increase from 2017 when it was founded.

Those in the industry expect the growth of drone users to remain healthy, as Covid-19-related restrictions on movement and travel are gradually eased globally.

Mr Vincent Li, director of drone retailer DJI Store Singapore, which has outlets at VivoCity and Funan, said its business had dipped by 30 per cent to 40 per cent from the start of the pandemic until May this year.

But sales have since recovered to pre-pandemic levels, which he attributes to more people using drones on their overseas holidays after Singapore reopened its borders in April.

Drone Flying Academy's Mr Lim said: "The different and endless applications of drones, like air taxis and drone light shows, could have enticed people to start learning how to fly them. It is possibly the next era of technology."

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