SINGAPORE: The recent drone incursions that disrupted flights and closed a runway at Changi Airport are receiving “top-level attention”, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said, adding that the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) was deploying assets and helping out with the incident response.
“Changi Airport is very important to the economy. Safety you have tens of millions of passengers,” Dr Ng told reporters on Friday (Jun 28) in an interview ahead of SAF Day. “So the potential disruption, not to speak of the safety issue, requires this to have top-level attention, and it has.”
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On Jun 24, the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) said that unauthorised drone activity and bad weather had delayed about 15 departures and three arrivals. Seven flights were also diverted.
This incident comes just days after Changi Airport was forced to intermittently close one runway due to drone sightings in the vicinity, affecting a total of 38 flights.
Investigations into both incidents are ongoing.
Dr Ng said there is a whole-of-Government effort tackling the issue, with agencies like the police and SAF involved in trying to catch the culprits, especially as such incidents could have “very bad consequences”.
“The problem is that if you wanted to shut down the airspace, you could. But the consequences are very large, because don't forget, your planes need to fly,” he added. “And they also depend on communications.”
Dr Ng said the SAF is also assisting the CAAS – the primary agency dealing with the incident – by offering “professional advice” on the kind of counter drone measures available on the market.
“We’ve told CAAS what is out there in the market that they can procure, if they want quickly – what kind of defences they need and it is up to CAAS to know what they need,” he explained.
Dr Ng said the SAF has and will continue to deploy its assets to “neutralise” errant drones and ensure that Changi Airport operations remain undisrupted.
But that is not a long-term solution, he added.
“Because as you can imagine, our SAF systems are built with specifications to deal with much more and sometimes they are not pitched at the sweet spot.”
Last year, the Republic of Singapore Air Force demonstrated some of its drone countermeasures, including a gun that jams a drone’s control signals and a system that uses a net to catch errant drones.
“From what I understand, they (the CAAS) know that they have to use a suite of levers, including enforcement,” Dr Ng said. “Nothing untoward has happened yet, and you really don’t want to wait for something before you act.”
To this end, Dr Ng said he was “glad” that the local drone community recognises that errant drone operators should be called to task, noting that it was important to send a “strong signal” regarding the consequences of their actions.
Offenders could be jailed for up to 12 months and/or fined up to S$20,000.
“I would advise any potential errant drone operators to desist, because the consequences will be punitive,” he stressed.