Stiffer penalties for drone-related offences, compulsory registration from 2 Jan

A drone enthusiast flying a drone at Bishan Park. (Yahoo News Singapore file photo)

SINGAPORE — Owners of drones with a take-off weight of above 250g will be made to register their devices from 2 January next year, before they can be operated in Singapore.

Penalties for offences involving drones and other unmanned aircraft (UA) will also be raised, following the passing of the Air Navigation (Amendment) Bill in Parliament on Monday (4 November).

The purpose of registration is for "accountability and traceability", said Senior Minister of State for Transport Lam Pin Min.

The announcement comes after a set of recommendations by the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Advisory Panel was submitted to Lam in August. The panel’s recommendations were accepted by the ministry last month.

All UA owners, who must be 16 years old and above at the point of registration, will have a three-month grace period from 2 January next year to register their devices.

Following which, from 2 April next year, it will be an offence to operate or fly an unregistered UA in Singapore.

Offenders could face a fine of up to $10,000 and/or a jail term of up to six months.

In his opening speech on the second reading of the bill, Lam noted that there are “reckless and irresponsible UA operators who operate in flagrant disregard of the law”.

“When operated irresponsibly, a UA could endanger others and cause widespread disruption of lawful activities, resulting in significant economic loss. One such example would be when a UA disrupts airport operations,” he added.

About 60 flights at Changi Airport were affected over two nights in June this year, after drones were sighted in the vicinity of the airport.

He noted that the current penalty for most offences involving UA, a maximum fine of $20,000, has “obviously not served as a deterrent” and is inadequate when the damage and disruption such devices can cause are taken into account.

For first-time offenders operating a UA without the required operator and/or activity permits, they face a jail term of up to two years, with repeat offenders facing up to five years in jail. The maximum fines will remain at $50,000 for first-time offenders, and $100,000 for repeat offenders.

For operating a UA to overfly or take photographs of a protected area, or discharging a substance –whether gaseous, liquid or solid – without authorisation when flying a UA, first-time offenders now face a maximum fine of $50,000, up from $20,000, as well as a jail term of up to two years. Repeat offenders may be sentenced to a maximum fine of $100,000, or jail of up to five years, or both.

Offenders who do not comply with a direction given by an enforcement officer to end the flight of a UA can face a jail term of up to two years, up from 12 months previously. The maximum fine will remain at $20,000.

Offenders who knowingly or recklessly operate a UA that endangers the life or property of another person can face a fine not exceeding $100,000 or a maximum jail term of 10 years or both.

“That the UA operator has a permit from CAAS will not be an excuse,” said Lam.

“We will continue to proactively fine-tune the regulatory framework and invest in counter UA capabilities so as to keep our skies safe,” he added.

Buying registration labels

Currently, the CAAS issues operator and the activity permits, which are only required for certain types of drone activities. For instance, a Class 1 Activity permit is required for UA activities conducted for purposes that are not recreational or research in nature, or if the device's take-off weight is over 7kg.

In 2018, the CAAS approved 522 operator and 2322 activity permits for UA, an increase of 35 per cent and 65 per cent respectively from 2017.

For the first nine months of this year, the CAAS has approved 480 operator and 2195 activity permits.

With the introduction of mandatory registration, owners are required to purchase a registration label, which is priced at $15 per device and bears a unique UA registration number.

From 2 January next year, these labels can be purchased via the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) or SingPost websites, as well as at 27 SingPost post offices.

Once the label is obtained, registrants will need to provide “some basic personal details and information” as well as submit a photo of the device affixed with the registration label at an upcoming UA portal on the CAAS website, said the authority in a press release.

“To further encourage UA users to fly responsibly, we will also be stepping up efforts to educate and help UA users comply with regulations,” said CAAS director-general Kevin Shum.


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