Mandatory drone registration, minimum age of 16 for drone operators proposed by advisory panel

There is currently a ban in Singapore on flying drones within 5km of airports or military airbases, or at altitudes above 61m, without a permit. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

SINGAPORE - Drone owners should be at least 16 years old and be made to register all devices with a take-off weight of above 250g.

All operators, including foreigners and tourists, should also be subject to mandatory registration before they are allowed to operate their unmanned aircraft (UA) in Singapore.

These were among the key recommendations by an advisory panel that was set up by the Government to propose a framework to regulate drone usage.

Other recommendations include:

- The registration regime should cover all UA whether commercial or self-assembled.

- A registered UA should be identifiable and traceable, for example, through a tamper-proof registration sticker.

- Registration should be easy, convenient and affordable; capped at $20 per device.

- A reasonable grace period of three months should be given to encourage registration.

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In its submission to the Transport Ministry, the panel said it would continue to review other related areas and submit further recommendations when ready. The Straits Times understands that this could include stiffer penalties for errant operators.

There is currently a ban in Singapore on flying drones within 5km of airports or military airbases, or at altitudes above 61m, without a permit. Those who flout the rules can be fined up to $20,000 and jailed for up to a year.

The proposals are part of measures to tighten control after two illegal incursions disrupted operations at Changi Airport in June that led to 55 flight delays and eight diversions.

A month after that, the Transport Ministry announced plans to make registration compulsory for drones and to raise penalties for those who flout flying rules. It also said that it would introduce a licensing framework for pilots of large and more capable drones.

In a letter to Senior Minister of State for Transport Lam Pin Min on Tuesday (Aug 27), the 12-member Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Advisory Panel said it strongly recommends compulsory registration.

This would help instill "a sense of responsibility and accountability among both operators and users", said panel chairman Timothy de Souza.

In a Facebook post, Dr Lam said the Government will study the recommendations and announce implementation details in due course.

He added that the panel's suggestions on how the registration regime can be implemented was "useful".

"I am heartened to read of the panel's support for mandatory drone registration to forge responsible use and accountability among the drone community," said Dr Lam.

The advisory panel, which was set up in May, has contacted about 150 industry representatives, hobbyists and experts through focus group discussions.

It is chaired by veteran Republic of Singapore Air Force pilot Mr de Souza. The other members represent UAS stakeholders including representatives from the industry, interest groups, training organisations, academia, government agencies, and grassroots organisations.

Mr de Souza told The Straits Times last month that while nobody can guarantee that troublemakers will never strike again, the panel hopes that new rules and regulations will raise awareness and send a strong signal that errant actions will not be tolerated.

He said then that beyond mandatory registration for drones above a certain weight and stiffer penalties for those who flout rules, the panel will also likely propose emphasis on training and education.

The culprit - or culprits - have reportedly not been caught yet. ST has reached out to the authorities to check on the status of the investigations.

The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore started tracking the use of unmanned systems in June 2015.

For the 2018/2019 financial year, it approved 539 operator permits, which are valid for up to a year, and issued 2,452 activity permits, which are for a single activity or a block of repeated activities to be carried out in a specific area of operation.

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