A Malaysia-registered civilian helicopter entered Singapore's territorial airspace without prior notification on Aug. 9, 2023, causing the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) to scramble two of its F-16 fighter jets.
In response to a parliamentary question about the incident, the Minister for Defence Ng Eng Hen said on Sep. 18, 2023, that there was no malicious intent arising from the incident, based on his assessment.
No malicious intent
The defence minister gave more details about the incident in his written reply to Joan Pereira, the People's Action Party Member of Parliament for Tanjong Pagar Group Representation Constituency.
Pereira filed a parliamentary question to ask Ng whether the safety of any aircraft has been compromised at any point due to the Aug. 9 incident, and what measures will be implemented to prevent similar occurrences in the future.
Ng stated in his Sep. 18 reply: "Our assessment is that there was no malicious intent arising from this incident."
"The helicopter had been contracted to take photographs of a Malaysian-registered oil rig that was being transported from Pasir Gudang to Miri, Sarawak when it mistakenly entered Singapore’s airspace without authorisation."
Helicopter entered Singapore's airspace at 12:37pm unannounced
Ng stated that there was no imminent impact on the safety of civilian air traffic during the time that the Malaysia-registered helicopter was in the Changi Control Zone.
The helicopter was flying from Senai Airport in Johor, Malaysia and headed towards Pengerang when it transited Changi Control Zone and subsequently entered Singapore territorial airspace at 12:37pm on Aug. 9.
It did not notify the relevant authorities of its entry and the Singapore Air Traffic Control did not receive any flight plan.
Helicopter exited Singapore's airspace at 2:05pm
As a result, two RSAF F-16 fighters had to be scrambled, which is consistent with the standard operating procedures whenever unidentified aircraft that may pose potential threats enter Singapore's airspace.
The helicopter's pilot was instructed to keep clear of Singapore's territorial airspace and to operate eastwards outside of Singapore’s territorial airspace.
The helicopter exited Singapore's territorial airspace at 1:03pm and the RSAF F-16s stood down at 2:05pm after ensuring that there were no further security threats.
Flights arriving and departing Singapore delayed
During this time, the airspace around Changi airport had to be closed in response to the unauthorised entry.
As a result, 36 flights arriving at and eight flights departing from Changi Airport were delayed.