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Singapore

Man flew drone illegally, endangering 2 RSAF aircraft that had to be diverted

Man flew drone illegally, endangering 2 RSAF aircraft that had to be diverted

The DJI Mavic 2 Zoom drone. (File photo: iStock)

SINGAPORE: Two Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) aircraft had to be diverted when a man illegally flew his drone into their flight path close to the time of their scheduled landing at Tengah Air Base in September 2020.

The presence of the drone, which was detected by the air base's aeroscope, also led RSAF to close the affected runway for half an hour.

Jason Ng Yok Sen, 43, pleaded guilty on Tuesday (Apr 12) to three counts of air navigation offences. Another 14 charges will be considered when he returns for sentencing later this week.

During the incident on Sep 8, 2020, Ng was operating his DJI Mavic 2 Zoom, which weighs about 900g, from Taman Jurong Park.

The drone enthusiast flew his unmanned aircraft for a total of 22 minutes, covering a distance of about 930m around Corporation Road.

The drone hit a maximum altitude of 134m above mean sea level during the flight, which was detected by Tengah Air Base's aeroscope at about 7.45pm.

This altitude and location meant that the drone was directly within the flight path of a Tengah Air Base runway, said Deputy Public Prosecutor Chong Ee Hsiun.

Two RSAF aircraft with a total crew of four personnel were scheduled to use the runway for landing within the hour after the drone was detected.

"There was a risk of collision, which would have threatened both lives and property. The RSAF had to re-route the two affected aircraft away from the said runway, and impose a 30-minute runway closure," said the prosecutor.

FLEW TOO CLOSE TO THE AERODROME

This was not the first time Ng had flown the drone dangerously.

His drone was detected flying around Chia Ping Road, Chin Bee Road, Joo Yee Road, Yang Ho Road and Corporation Road at an altitude exceeding 60m on a total of 12 occasions between May 17 and Oct 3, 2020.

On May 17 that year, Ng flew his drone for about half an hour, covering more than 5.6km around an area west of Taman Jurong Park, up to an altitude of 125m.

Three days later, he flew the drone around the area for about 20 minutes to a distance of 1.8km and a maximum altitude of 136m.

During this second flight, the drone also flew into airspace within 5km of Tengah Air Base's aerodrome, which is an area used for the arrival, departure and movement of aircraft.

On the two occasions, Ng was operating his drone from a distance of about 724m and 820m respectively. This meant he was flying the drone close to buildings and over people and vehicles without keeping it in his line of sight at all times.

This endangered people and vehicles, as they were at risk of being hit by the drone should it fall from height due to malfunction or pilot error, said Ms Chong.

Calculations showed that if Ng had lost control of the drone, it would "easily" have caused death or serious injury, with little time for pedestrians or vehicles to get out of harm's way given the altitudes at which it was flying, she said.

Ng was also required to obtain a permit to fly his drone at an altitude of more than 60m on these occasions, but did not do so.

The prosecution sought a total fine of between S$53,000 and S$63,000, stressing the need to deter other potential offenders.

Ms Chong told the court that this was the "first case with a complaint involving the diversion of aircraft".

"This is an egregious case where actual endangerment of aircraft in flight occurred, with actual disruption to the operations of Tengah Air Base ... This is serious," she said.

Aside from the safety risk, Ms Chong said that unregulated drone flights could also affect Singapore's reputation as an aviation hub by crowding the country's limited airspace.

Those who fly a drone without the required Class 2 activity permit can be jailed up to two years and fined up to S$50,000, with heavier penalties for repeat offenders.

Those who fly a drone in a manner likely to endanger the safety of any person, aircraft or property can be jailed up to five years, fined up to S$100,000 or both.

Source: CNA/dv(zl)

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