S'porean man, 37, convicted for flying drone within 5km of Paya Lebar Air Base without permit

This is the first-ever drone case to be convicted in Singapore.

Julia Yeo | October 25, 2019, 05:28 PM

Two men were charged for operating unmanned aircraft within 5km of Paya Lebar Air Base in July 2019.

They were the first two people to be charged for this.

On Oct. 25, one of them, Ed Chen Junyuan, 37, was found guilty of flying a drone in an open field near 128C Punggol Field Walk on Jun. 26, 2019, at around 9:30pm.

Witnessed by Paya Lebar Air Base officer

According to court documents, an off-duty Air Force officer, Tan Seow Lim, was alerted at around 9:30pm of a drone sighting in the vicinity of Punggol Field Walk by the Paya Lebar Air Base Aeroscope system.

The alert was sent out to all principal staff of the Air Base.

Tan immediately drove to the location where the drone was sighted, and spotted blinking lights in the open field near 128C Punggol Field Walk, where he saw Chen his friend, Tay Miow Seng, 40, operating one drone each.

When the witness arrived, both drones had been grounded.

He then informed the two men that the area was a "no-fly" zone, and that they were not allowed to operate their drones in the area.

He also identified himself as an officer from the Paya Lebar Air Base, and within 10 minutes, the police arrived at the location and detained Chen and Tay.

Was teaching friend how to operate drone

Further investigations revealed that Chen had purchased his drone, a 0.357kg DBPOWER FPV, on Jun. 24, 2019.

He had collected the drone on Jun. 26, and had immediately contacted his friend, Tay, a drone hobbyist, to teach him how to operate the drone.

They flew the drones at a maximum altitude of 6m.

According to Chen's lawyer, Josephus Tan, it was an "innocent gathering" of Chen, Tay, and their wives, at the open field near Chen's residence, to test-fly his newly-purchased drone.

No need to use a sledgehammer to kill a fly, defence said

The location was picked out of convenience, and Chen had no knowledge of the legal regulations surrounding drone use, the defence said.

His lawyer added that Chen had demonstrated "genuine remorse" and had been cooperative with the relevant authorities, saving valuable resources for the parties involved.

The defence then asked for the sentence to be reduced to a fine of not more than S$500 to S$1,000.

Both are first-time offenders under the provision.

Accused's actions posed safety risk to RSAF, says DPP

DPP Dwayne Lum stated that the accused had chosen to operate his drone within 1.66km of Paya Lebar Air Base.

He continued that the offence was committed just two days after a separate drone incident (which disrupted several flights around Changi Airport) that was highly publicised by the media.

"Given that the accused lives in the vicinity, he would have been more than aware of the proximity of an airbase in that location," Lum argued.

He emphasised that Chen's actions had posed a safety risk to the operational capability of the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) aircraft out of Paya Lebar Airbase.

"Unregulated drone flights have the potential to crowd the limited airspace, posing serious issues for [Singapore's] status as an aviation hub," Lum said.

He asked for the accused to be sentenced to a fine of S$3,000, citing considerations that the accused had pleaded guilty.

The judge has asked for an adjournment of the court hearing to Nov. 4, 2019, for Chen's sentence.

No operating of unmanned aircraft within five km of aerodrome without CAAS permit

It is illegal to operate unmanned aircraft such as drones, within five kilometres of aerodromes such as airbases, and at an altitude of roughly 60m (200ft) above sea level, without a permit from the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS).

If found guilty, first-time offenders may be fined up to S$20,000.

Repeat offenders may be fined up to S$40,000, or imprisoned for up to 15 months, or both.

Top image via Julia Yeo and via Unsplashed