SINGAPORE: The Unmanned Aircraft Systems Advisory Panel has recommended all drones above 250g to be registered before operating in Singapore, adding that registration costs should not exceed S$20.
The registration regime should cover commercial and self-assembled drones including multi-rotors, helicopters and aeroplanes, as well as those operated by tourists and foreigners, it said.
It also proposed that drones be operated independently only by those aged 16 and above.
The panel submitted its first set of recommendations to Senior Minister of State for Transport Lam Pin Min on Tuesday (Aug 27).
Dr Lam wrote in a Facebook post on Tuesday that the Government will study the recommendations carefully and announce implementation details of the mandatory registration regime “in due course”.
This comes after he told Parliament in July that all drones operating in Singapore will have to be registered by the end of this year.
"This will ensure that drone operators are made aware of their responsibilities and undertake to conduct their activities in a responsible manner," he had said.
The 12-member advisory panel said the registration regime should cover drones with a total take-off weight of above 250g to strike a balance between safety and practicality.
It also pointed to a scientific study conducted by the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) and Nanyang Technological University which showed that drones above 250g falling on a person’s head would result in "serious injury".
In addition, the panel said registered drones should be identifiable and traceable, noting that one possible way would be fixing a tamper-proof sticker to the drone upon registration. This is similar to how e-scooters are registered in Singapore.
"The registered unmanned aircraft should be able to be traced to a registrant to facilitate investigations if the need arises," it added.
On Jun 24, bad weather and unauthorised drone activity near Changi Airport delayed 15 departing flights and three arriving flights, and caused another seven flights to be diverted.
The incident came just days after Changi Airport was forced to intermittently close one runway on Jun 18 due to drone sightings in the vicinity, affecting a total of 38 flights.
Police investigations into both incidents are still ongoing.
Chairman of the advisory panel Timothy De Souza said on Tuesday that through registration, the authorities will be able to better identify drone users.
"If you don't do any registration ... you don't know who's out there and you don't know what they are doing," he said.
Mr De Souza stated that the panel also studied countries that have introduced mandatory registration for drones, like the US, China and Canada.
"All of them are convinced that the only way that you can have accountability and responsibility is through registration," he added. "If those countries with their experience have done this, we're not going to invent the wheel again."
HOW TO REGISTER?
When it comes to registration, the panel said the process should be easy and convenient, proposing that authorities provide different methods of registration, including online.
Mr De Souza said an overly onerous process could have a "dampening effect" on members of the older generation that intend to buy drones for their young ones.
The panel also noted the need for affordability, especially for those with multiple drones, and recommended that fees should not exceed S$20, referencing the cost of registering drones around the world and e-scooters in Singapore.
According to Mr De Souza, the "uniquely Singaporean" registration process could include compulsory training and education.
"There are several parts to this particular system," he added. "Registration is not only the act of giving the name and address, and paying the fee."
The panel acknowledged that operators should be given time to comply with the new regulations, and recommended a three-month grace period for registration, after which “effective enforcement” should take place.
“We are mindful of the urgency for enforcement of the registration regime to be effected,” it added. “CAAS should also consider partnering hobbyist clubs and training organisations to encourage registration.”
The panel recommended that registrants should be at least 16 years old to ensure they are of “sufficient maturity” given the potential consequences of errant flying, adding that this benchmark continues to allow drones to be flown at tertiary institutions for educational purposes.
“Persons below 16 years of age should only be allowed to fly unmanned aircraft under adult supervision,” the panel stated.
NEXT SET OF RECOMMENDATIONS TO INCLUDE PENALTIES
Meanwhile, Mr De Souza said the second set of the panel's recommendations could include modifying penalties for errant drone users.
Dr Lam had said in Parliament that offenders may face more severe penalties. Currently, they can be jailed for up to 12 months and fined a maximum of S$20,000.
"Are we going to adopt that or are we going to change that?" Mr De Souza said of the current penalties. "We have to start the whole public discussion again and get it from there."
Despite that, Mr De Souza said the two incursions meant the panel has had to work "quite fast and quite hard", noting that he would like to complete the second set of recommendations before the end of the year.
"We will have to see whether or not those items need to be fast-tracked as well," he added. "I think so because the aspect of penalties ... comes as step two to step one, so I don't think we can relax on the pace.
"But we've been very mindful to not just run and run, and not hear the voices and consult the people."
Dr Lam said the panel sat down with some 150 industry representatives, hobbyists and experts over the past three months to “hear everyone out” and discuss which regulations need to be updated.
Mr De Souza, a veteran Air Force pilot, said some who attended the focus group discussions have noted that if the use of drones were not controlled, they could become a "nuisance".
"But if there are measures to control them and everybody can cooperate with and accept them to be responsible and safe, then there wouldn't be a nuisance," he added.
"If you don't have a system that can ensure accountability, then you would give errant users a free licence almost to do what they like. But if you have a system where they know that they are accountable, they will behave responsibly and safely."
Dr Lam had appointed the panel in May to review the regulatory framework and make recommendations.
“I am heartened to read of the panel’s support for mandatory drone registration to forge responsible use and accountability among the drone community,” he wrote.