[Update, 4 November 2019]
The Air Navigation (Amendment) Bill was passed in Parliament on 4 November 2019, mandating that all drones above 250g must be registered with the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS).
This new law will come into place starting 2 January 2020.
Along with this, the government has also decided to enforce stricter penalties to deter people from misusing drones.
Currently, offenders can be fined up to $20,000 and/or jailed up to 12 months for operating drones in unauthorised areas or without necessary permits.
The new law will increase the maximum fine to up to $50,000 and jail time up to two years for first-time offenders.
Repeat offenders can face fines of up to $100,000 and/or five years in jail.
Drone users will have a three-month grace period from 2 January 2020 to register their devices.
[Update, 8 July 2019]
All drones in Singapore will have to go through mandatory registration by the end of this year, announced in Parliament on 8 July 2019.
People who operate “large or capable drones” will additionally have to be licensed.
On top of these measures that are aimed at encouraging drone flyers to be more accountable and responsible, Senior Minister of State for Transport Lam Pin Min also said that penalties for drone offences will be made more severe.
Responding to suggestions to ban drones altogether, Lam said that they have many “beneficial uses” such as providing deliveries, conducting aerial inspection, and having educational purposes.
Instead of removing them completely, authorities will need to take time to find “the right balance in terms of regulations”, especially since drone technology “continues to evolve quickly”.
In the meantime, their priority is to promptly detect drones and “prevent them from affecting air traffic and endangering public safety”.
“We stand ready to invest in and deploy additional capabilities to monitor and enforce the safety of our airspace,” said Lam.
This could include a proposed central flight management system that can keep tabs on all drones islandwide, and check if they are being operated under valid permits.
Investigations regarding the recent drone-related airport disruptions in June are still underway.
First e-scooters have to be legally licensed in Singapore, and now maybe drones too? Irresponsible users could be resulting in stricter regulation in this case as well.
In the short span of a week in June 2019, two incidents of drone activity caused major disruptions to flights coming and going from Changi Airport.
On 18 June, drones that were spotted within 5km of the airport caused one entire runway to suspend operations for short periods of time between 11pm to 9am, affecting 38 flights that day.
This was followed by 18 more flight delays and 7 diversions on 24 June.
Altogether, 63 flights were disrupted in just those two incidents, and the offenders have yet to be caught.
Beyond causing inconvenience, flying drones close to airports and airbases poses very dangerous risks, if a drone was to collide with an aircraft and puncture it, or even enter its engine.
The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS)’s current rules state that it is an offence to operate drones of more than 7kg, flying above 200 feet (61m) altitude, or within restricted areas without a permit.
Flouting these rules could result in a fine of up to $20,000, up to 12 months in jail, or both.
To avoid penalties, drone users should be aware of what circumstances they’re allowed to fly without applying for a permit, and which locations are marked restricted.
Rules Are About To Get Tougher
In light of the recent incidents, CAAS’ Unmanned Aircraft Systems Advisory Panel has increased their urgency to work on new recommendations for drone rules in Singapore.
Initially, the 12-person panel intended to submit their proposal to the Government in 2020, but have now decided to bring it forward “by three to four months”.
Their suggestions are likely to include mandatory registration of drones at point of purchase, and stricter penalties for those who flout the rules.
The panel’s chairman, former Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) pilot Timothy de Souza, believes the current penalties are not harsh enough to deter offenders.
His concerns come with the consideration that one flight diversion alone can cost an airline as much as $150,000, and more importantly, accidents can be disastrous for all people on board.
Referring to the $20,000 fine and 12 months jail time for offenders, he said: “You think this is reasonable, if you disrupt our airport twice? If you ask the panel, the answer is no.”
However, de Souza also points out the need for education and training.
“Registration will give us the ability to reach out to users so we can provide proper training and also educate them about where they can and cannot fly their drones,” he added.
The panel still needs to work out some specific details, like whether all drones should have to be registered, or only drones above certain weight limitations.
It will be seeking feedback from the public and industry before submitting its suggestions.
Featured Image Credit: New Scientist