SINGAPORE — The growing popularity of unmanned aircraft (UA), also known as drones, in Singapore has brought a hidden danger to the forefront: the risk posed by unlawful operations near restricted areas, and one that could potentially cause a disturbance to Changi Airport’s operations.

In 2023, the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) took action against a staggering 309 cases of unlawful UA activity, highlighting a concerning trend. This surge in irresponsible drone usage prompted CAAS to take a multi-pronged approach to curb usage of illegal drone operations in restricted areas.

The agency is sending a clear message: public safety and aviation security are paramount, and those who disregard the regulations will face fines or possible jail time.

Last year, eight individuals and seven companies were prosecuted in court and were fined between $4,000 and $45,000. The others were issued composition fines, stern warnings or advisories. 

Photo credit: Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore

One such case was of a 32-year-old Singaporean man  who was convicted of four charges on Jan 9. The court took into consideration the remaining 26 charges during sentencing, and imposed a total fine of $20,000.

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He was charged for operating an unregistered registrable UA in a manner likely to endanger the safety of any person or property, within a restricted area and at an altitude exceeding 200 feet above mean sea level (AMSL) without a Class 2 activity permit. 

A construction company received a fine of $45,000 on May 22. The company was handed eight charges and the remaining 51 charges were taken into consideration by the court during sentencing. The construction company was charged for operating a UA in the course of business without a UA operator permit and a Class 1 activity permit.

CAAS is particularly concerned about unlawful drone activity within a 5km radius of Changi Airport. This area is deemed high-risk due to the potential hazards with aircraft plying the route along the world’s busiest airports. To address this concern, CAAS has launched a targeted public outreach campaign.

“UA activities have gained popularity over the years. It is important that we work together to ensure that aviation and public safety is not compromised. CAAS urges all UA operators to conduct UA activities safely and responsibly. CAAS takes a strong stance against unauthorised UA operations and will not hesitate to act against those who fail to comply with UA regulations.

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“At the same time, CAAS will step up public education efforts to raise awareness, especially amongst residents living within 5km of Changi Airport.” said Mr Maran Paramanathan, Director (Unmanned Systems Policy, Regulations and Operations).

Photo credit: Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore

Working with the People’s Association, the agency is reaching out to residents in nearby HDB estates in Pasir Ris-Punggol, Tampines and East Coast, through banners, posters, and digital displays in common areas and lift lobbies. CAAS is similarly working with the anagement Corporation Strata Title of private condominiums within 5km of Changi Airport. CAAS will provide additional advisory letters to the condominium when an offender is caught within the premises of the estate.

As part of CAAS public outreach approach, the agency has not only ramped up signage with additional ‘No UA Flying’ warnings in popular drone activity areas within 5km of Changi Airport, but has also bolstered its ground enforcement and education efforts.

Auxiliary police officer deployment has increased, focusing on surveillance, monitoring, and taking enforcement action at UA hotspots near the airport.

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Under the Air Navigation Act 1966, offenders may be fined up to $50,000 or jailed up to two years, or both.

Members of the public are reminded to check the OneMap.sg website or the OneMap app for information on areas where the conduct of aerial and unmanned aircraft activities is prohibited or requires a permit. No-fly zones are areas where UA operations are not allowed if the requisite permit(s) is not obtained.

Featured image by Depositphotos