Man admits to flying drone near airbase without permit

A 37-year-old man has pleaded guilty to flying a drone near Paya Lebar Air Base without the proper permits.

Ed Chen Junyuan appeared in court yesterday to answer a charge of piloting the drone within 5km of the airbase.

Chen and a friend, Tay Miow Seng, 40, were separately charged in July this year under the Air Navigation Order.

The duo were the first to be charged with unlawfully flying a drone in Singapore.

The court heard that Chen had asked Tay to teach him how to operate the drone on June 26. They met around 9pm that same day at an open field just opposite Chen’s home.

Both men then flew their drones until the batteries went flat.

Meanwhile, an off-duty officer with the Republic of Singapore Air Force, who worked at Paya Lebar Air Base, arrived at the field after receiving an alert broadcast to airbase staff about a drone in the area.

The officer caught Chen and Tay at the field after spotting blinking lights at their location.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Dwayne Lum urged the court during the sentencing hearing for Chen to not be let off with “a slap on the wrist”, as he was piloting the drone without the required permit and with prior knowledge that an airbase was nearby.

DPP Lum said that the sentence should be in the public interest, taking into consideration the importance of deterrence.

“Unregulated operation of drones, especially within close proximity to airbases, poses serious consequences for aircraft safety,” DPP Lum said.

“In addition, unregulated drone operation also poses a safety risk especially if done in an irresponsible fashion, endangering not just aircraft but persons and property,” the DPP added.

Defence lawyer Josephus Tan, however, pleaded for the court to impose a fine of between $500 and $1,000. The prosecution has asked for a $3,000 fine.

Mr Tan argued that Chen was operating a drone without electronic “geo-fencing” technology, which allows for clear demarcation of no-fly zones.

The lawyer said that without this technology, Chen would not have been likely to know how close exactly he was to the airbase.

Mr Tan also argued that Chen flew the drone at the height of only 6m, about two storeys of an HDB block, and this could not have posed any danger to the air traffic control or military aircraft.

“There was no actual harm whatsoever and minimal potential harm. (Chen’s) case is therefore wholly unlike the two drone incursions at Changi Airport in June 2019, whereby runway operations and flights were indeed delayed,” he said.

Chen faces a fine of up to $20,000.

The hearing has been adjourned to Nov 4.