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How should UAVs be regulated? Experts weigh in

Some users of UAVs could require certification soon, to address safety and security concerns. We pick the brains of experts on what this should entail.

SINGAPORE: As the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) takes off rapidly in Singapore - both for recreation and commercial purposes - the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) is reviewing the regulatory framework for unmanned aircraft and their operations here.

UAVs are currently regulated under the Singapore Air Navigation Order. To ensure safety of aircraft operations, UAVs are not allowed to fly within five kilometres of an aerodrome. In addition, UAVs can only be flown up to about 61 metres.

Aviation experts believe these rules may not be adequate to address the future growth of UAVs here. So some form of certification may be necessary, based on the purpose of using the UAVs.

"Do we need to certify everybody? I think the answer is probably no," says Mr Liew Hui Sing the Singapore Polytechnic's Course Chair for Aeronautical Engineering. At the end of the day, if it is for aero-modellers who want to fly of a certain size UAV, within a certain area. They don't need to be certified. However, they must follow the basic rules and regulations of safety in any flying, in a densely populated area."

He says it is the group beyond hobbyists that authorities would want to keep tabs on. "When you talk about another level where people start to fly for commercial gain - for example I'm going to fly a UAV outdoor to be filming for a movie, and the movie at the end of the day is going to make money, this is where authorities must be aware."

Aviation professionals say certification must also look at the size of the UAV, how it is powered, and its capabilities, as well as the person flying it. "Certification should address the operator - is this operator qualified to operate UAV? Is it posing national security threats? Second, the type of certificate is for the vehicle itself - making sure it is airworthy, it's safe to fly, it is not going to blow up in the air, or it's not going to hit targets unnecessarily," explained Dr Hsin Chen Chung, the Director of the Air Traffic Management Research Institute at the Nanyang Technological University.

Another consideration is to ensure UAVs are flown within the operator's line of sight. "Once it is out of your line of sight, it is illegal, because you cannot control something you cannot see," said Mr Liew. "We have new technology like autonomous systems where you can go beyond a certain range - then another level of certification on your UAV equipment must come in, and also for the competency of the pilot."

The CAAS says it will roll out the proposed regulatory framework on the use of UAVs for public consultation in the coming months.

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