SINGAPORE: A man admitted on Friday (Oct 25) to flying a drone near an airbase in the first case of its kind in Singapore.
Ed Chen Junyuan, 37, pleaded guilty to one charge of flying a small unmanned aircraft within 5km of Paya Lebar Airbase.
The court heard that Chen bought a 0.36kg DBPOWER FPB drone online in June this year and contacted his co-accused, 41-year-old Tay Miow Seng, to ask the latter to teach him how to operate it.
They met up at the open field near 128C Punggol Field Walk opposite Chen's home at 9pm on Jun 26.
Chen operated the drone with its remote control and flew it for about five to six minutes, said Deputy Public Prosecutor Dwayne Lum, for up to two storeys or six metres high.
Tay, who had brought his own DJI drone weighing about 0.43kg, flew his own device at the same time at the field.
The two men flew their drones till the batteries were drained and the devices grounded.
Meanwhile, one of the drones had been sighted by the Paya Lebar Airbase Aeroscope system, and an alert was broadcast to all principal staff at the airbase.
The Paya Lebar Aerodrome was about 1.66km away from the open field.
OFF-DUTY RSAF OFFICER FINDS THE TWO MEN
An officer with the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) deployed at the Paya Lebar Airbase was off-duty when he received the alert.
As he was nearby, Mr Tan Seow Lim drove towards the given location and found Chen and Tay, whose drones had been grounded by the time he arrived.
He identified himself as an officer from the airbase and told the two men that they were in a "no-fly-zone" and that they were not allowed to operate their drones in the area.
Police officers arrived soon after, and Chen and Tay were arrested.
Chen had been required to obtain a relevant activity permit to operate his drone for recreational purposes in the area within 5km of Paya Lebar Airbase, but did not.
The prosecutor on Friday asked for a fine of S$3,000, saying that unregulated operation of drones especially within close proximity of air bases poses "serious consequences for aircraft safety".
"This also translates to an impact on Singapore's reputation as an aviation hub," he said, citing then-Minister for Transport Khaw Boon Wan's parliament speech that "we are a small, densely populated country with limited airspace".
Safety risks are posed not just to aircraft but people and property, said the prosecutor, and such offenders are hard to detect and apprehend.
"Were it not for the initiative and close proximity of the witness to the accused’s location, the accused and co-accused persons would likely not have been apprehended," he said.
NO ACTUAL HARM CAUSED: DEFENCE
Lawyers Josephus Tan and Cory Wong from Invictus Law asked instead for a fine of between S$500 and S$1,000, saying there was "no actual harm whatsoever and minimal potential harm".
Mr Tan said there was no indication in the statement of facts of the speed at which Chen's drone had been flying, and therefore it could not be said that it was going at a dangerous speed.
The drone flew only for five to six minutes before running out of battery, and "this was certainly not a prolonged period of time", said the lawyer.
Chen is a first-time offender and has pleaded guilty, added Mr Tan, saying "there is no need to use a sledgehammer to kill a fly".
In response, the prosecutor said that despite "almost every news media coming out to say please check before you operate drones", Chen operated one just days after a previous incident.
"Certainly, the right signal has to be sent," said the prosecutor. "Do not expect to be blissfully ignorant, fly your drones and refuse to (check) regulations despite the current atmosphere surrounding drones and their operations and expect to be let off with a light slap of the wrist."
The judge adjourned sentencing to next month in order to deliberate.
The co-accused Tay is set to return to court for his case next Friday (Nov 1).