Man fined for flying drone near Paya Lebar Air Base without permit

The offence took place within the vicinity of Block 128C Punggol Field Walk. PHOTO: Screenshot from Google Street View
The offence took place within the vicinity of Block 128C Punggol Field Walk. PHOTO: Screenshot from Google Street View

SINGAPORE — A man who flew a drone within 5 kilometres of Paya Lebar Air Base was fined $2,000 on Monday (4 November).

Ed Chen Junyuan, 37, and his friend Tay Miow Seng, 40, were the first individuals hauled to court for flying a drone without a valid Class 2 activity permit, a breach of the Air Navigation Order.

Chen had earlier pleaded guilty to his charge. Tay’s case is still pending before the courts.

On Monday (4 November), District Judge Ng Cheng Thiam said that while he agreed with defence lawyers that there was no intended harm and no malice on Chen’s part, a stiff fine was needed to deter others from contravening the law.

Facts of the case

On 26 June this year, Chen was flying the drone, a DBPOWER FPV, at an open field near 128C Punggol Field Walk for recreational purposes. He had been learning how to fly the drone from Tay, who was also flying a DJI drone at the same field.

According to court documents, the location where the two operated their drones was about 1.66km away from Paya Lebar Aerodrome.

At around 9.30 pm, a Republic of Singapore Air Force Officer at Paya Lebar Air Base, Tan Seow Lim, was off-duty when he received an alert about a drone sighting by the Paya Lebar Air Base Aeroscope system.

The alert, which was broadcast to all principal staff of the Air Base, added that police had been notified and despatched to the area.

As the location of the drone sighting was nearby, Tan headed towards it. As he neared the area, he saw blinking lights in the open field near 128C Punggol Field Walk. He then spotted Chen and Tay, both of whom had a drone each. Both drones had been grounded by the time Tan reached them.

Tan identified himself and informed Chen and Tay that this was a “no-fly-zone”. Police officers arrived later and detained both men.

Chen had purchased his drone, weighing 0.357kg, online on 24 June. On the day of the offence, he collected the drone at 4.30pm before meeting Tay to learn how to operate the device.

At 9pm that day, Chen suggested to Tay that they meet at the open field near 128C Punggol Field Walk, which was just opposite Chen’s residence. Chen then operated his drone with a remote control for about five to six minutes, at a maximum height of about two storeys.

Tay also operated his drone, weighing 0.43kg, at the same time. Both operated the drones until the batteries drained.

The prosecution had sought a $3,000 fine for Chen. Deputy Public Prosecutor Dwayne Lum said that unregulated operation of drones within close proximity to airbases pose serious consequences for aircraft safety and also posed a safety risk to persons and property.

But Chen’s lawyer Josephus Tan argued for a fine of between $500 an $1,000, stating that there was no actual harm caused and the potential harm was minimal.

Josephus Tan, who is from Invictus Law, said in an earlier hearing that Chen had flown his drone over an open, secluded, empty grass field with only himself, his wife, Tay Miow Seng and his wife, present.

“Ed had simply won an auction for his said drone on a Facebook auction page. The purpose for his bidding was in the hopes of cheaply acquiring a drone beforehand, so as to take aerial family photos of the then-impending new addition to his family,” said Tan, referring to Chen’s son, who was born on 3 July this year.

The lawyer described the event as an “innocent gathering” at a convenient location for Chen to learn drone-flying from Tay.

“There was no mischievous or commercial element whatsoever in Ed’s acquisition and flying of his drone,” added Tan.

For a first conviction of his offence, Chen could have been fined up to $20,000.

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