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Designated flying areas for drones, model aircraft to be set up after proposal by advisory panel

Designated flying areas for drones, model aircraft to be set up after proposal by advisory panel

File photo: A man operates a remote control drone at an open car park in Singapore on Apr 5, 2016. (Photo: AFP/ ROSLAN RAHMAN)

SINGAPORE: Drone and model aircraft hobbyists may soon have designated common spaces to fly their aircraft safely, after proposals made by an advisory panel were accepted by the Ministry of Transport. 

In recommendations submitted to Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung late last year, the advisory panel proposed that the Government consider the development of unmanned aircraft (UA) flying areas, noting that such spaces would help “inculcate an interest in UA, provide common spaces for recreational UA operators to gather, and foster a culture of safety among the community”.

"These flying areas will also provide new or beginner recreational operators with the assurance that UA operations are fully sanctioned at these sites," said panel chair Timothy de Souza in a letter sent to Mr Ong last November. 

In a Facebook post on Friday (Jan 15), Mr Ong said that his ministry has accepted the panel’s recommendations. “More details will be announced in the coming months,” he added.

This is the second set of recommendations submitted by the 12-member Unmanned Aircraft Systems Advisory Panel, which was formed in 2019. 

The first recommendations submitted in August 2019 included the mandatory registration of all drones weighing more than 250g, as well as a minimum age of 16 for drone operators. 

READ: Panel recommends drones above 250g to be registered; cost to be S$20 or less

In its latest report, the advisory panel put forward a set of principles under which designated flying areas should operate. 

These include ensuring that the flying of UAs at such sites be conducted in a safe and responsible manner and not “compromise the safety of other airspace users such as military and commercial operations” or jeopardise national security. 

Two years ago, unauthorised drone activity in the vicinity of Changi Airport disrupted flights and forced the airport to temporarily close one of its runways. 

In November last year, Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security Teo Chee Hean said there had been 20 cases of illegal drone intrusions into the restricted airspace around Changi Airport in the preceding three months

OPERATING MODELS OF FLYING AREAS

The operation of unmanned aircraft at flying sites should also be sensitive to the needs and concerns of the public, wrote Mr de Souza, a former Republic of Singapore Air Force fighter pilot. 

“For example, UA operations can be limited to certain time periods, like other similar recreational activities,” he stated. 

Such spaces should also support the needs of aircraft operators, while being both affordable and financially sustainable, he added. 

READ: Singapore's drone sector takes off with more potential for range of uses: Industry players

The panel also studied examples of other similar sites around the world, such as the United States Federal Aviation Administration’s “fixed sites” as well as indoor and outdoor flying areas in Japan and South Korea. 

Based on these examples, it proposed a number of possible operating models for such spaces. 

These include non-exclusive sites - which are shared with others who are not flying UAs and would typically be free to use - as well as exclusive sites run by an association or commercial entity, which would require payment. 

Such sites can include those set aside for UA operations on a long-term basis as well as short-term use, such as for events. 

“We are convinced that the development of established UA flying areas is the most effective way to grow a community of UA operators and build a culture of safety and responsibility on a sustained basis,” said Mr de Souza in the letter. 

“Taking into consideration the COVID-19 situation, we propose that the Government consider implementing the concept of established UA flying areas when feasible,” he added, noting that the panel also encouraged the authorities to support ground-up efforts for such flying areas. 

Source: CNA/az(gs)

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