Panel recommends drone registration be made compulsory

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.
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

Rule should apply to all, including tourists, and users must be aged at least 16; panel looking at penalties

Drone owners who aim to launch their devices into the sky in Singapore may soon have to abide by a set of rules on the ground.

For example, they should be at least 16 years old and be made to register all devices with a take-off weight above 250g, an advisory panel set up to regulate drone usage has proposed on the back of drone incursions at Changi Airport.

The compulsory registration should apply to all operators, including foreigners and tourists, said the panel which has been studying systems practised in other jurisdictions.

"And we are now convinced that mandatory registration is the way to go," said Mr Timothy de Souza, chairman of the 12-member Unmanned Aircraft Systems Advisory Panel, at a media briefing yesterday.

In a letter to Senior Minister of State for Transport Lam Pin Min, the panel added that this would help instil "a sense of responsibility and accountability among both operators and users".

Mr de Souza also made it clear that his panel had completed only the first part of its work, keeping the focus on mandatory registration.

The panel's recommendations on other aspects - such as appropriate penalties for those who violate the rules - would follow later, perhaps by the end of this year.

He also said the minimum age of 16 would ensure a level of maturity among users. Those younger than 16 could fly drones under adult supervision.

Unauthorised drones near Changi Airport led to 55 flight delays and eight diversions in June, adding a touch of urgency to the work of the panel, which was set up in May.

In its recommendations for unmanned aircraft released yesterday, the panel said the registration regime should apply to all devices, whether self-assembled or commercial. All registered drones should be identifiable and traceable, such as through tamper-proof registration stickers.

The panel also proposed that registration should be convenient and affordable - capped at $20 a device - with a grace period of three months given to register the devices.

 
 
 
 

Mr de Souza said during the briefing that mandatory registration was a necessary first step - so that users behave responsibly and could be traced if they did not - and areas such as penalties and education would now be looked at.

"I don't think we can relax on the pace. We need to get this sorted out, there is an urgency that my panel and I feel," he said.

There is currently a ban in Singapore on flying drones within 5km of airports or military air bases, 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 Transport Ministry had said after the Changi incursions that penalties would be stiffened, registration of drones made compulsory and a licensing framework put in place for larger drones.

In a Facebook post yesterday, 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 were "useful".

The panel reached out to about 150 industry representatives, hobbyists and experts through focus group discussions.

Mr de Souza, a veteran Republic of Singapore Air Force pilot, told The Straits Times last month that while nobody can guarantee that trouble-makers 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.

The culprits in the Changi Airport drone incidents have reportedly not been caught yet.

Mr de Souza said yesterday that most drone users whom the panel met are very responsible. "And they get very angry when someone is doing things that give them a bad name."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 28, 2019, with the headline 'Panel recommends drone registration be made compulsory'. Print Edition | Subscribe