Drone users call for less restrictive rules amid review

Drone users call for less restrictive rules amid review
FLY AWAY: (From left) PhD researcher Ervine Lin, lawyer Roe Yun Song, tutor Gan Weili, medical technologist Alvin Wong and IT engineer Aramid Lee flying their drones at Tanjong Rhu.

REGULATIONS for flying drones in Singapore should be streamlined and less obstructive, according to users and developers of the gadgets here.

They hope that the current review of drone regulations by the Ministry of Transport and the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) will provide clearer guidelines on drone operations and include minimal restrictions.

The challenge will be to ensure that privacy and safety concerns are met without undermining innovation and development.

Currently, drone users must apply for at least one of three permits before flying them here, which can take a minimum of two weeks.

Under the Singapore Air Navigation Order, a model aircraft may not be flown within 5km of an aerodrome - such as an airport or air base - unless the operator obtains a permit.

A permit is also required for flying drones higher than 61m above mean sea level when they are 5km or more away from an aerodrome.

Such rules ensure there are safety buffers to keep unmanned aircraft clear of flight paths.

Finally, drone operators need an aerial photography licence - even if they do not plan to use cameras attached to the machines.

Drone operators say the regulations are too restrictive and bureaucratic, and make deployment and development of the technology difficult here.

Mr Rude Lee, 33, from aerial photography company Skyshot, called for the permit approval time to be reduced.

"Every time we want to fly, we have to contact different departments at CAAS, the Ministry of Home Affairs and, sometimes, the air force," he said.

"We have to turn away clients with last-minute requests because we won't get the permits in time."

Mr Gabriel Kang, founder of drone research firm Sensory Robotics, said: "The only people being punished are those who try to stick to the rules.

"All drones have cameras - it's a safety feature.

You have to see where the drone is going as it can travel out of sight very quickly.

You want to make sure it doesn't hit anything, and you can't do that without a camera to see where it is flying."

Lawyers say the review is a step in the right direction in separating regulations for manned and unmanned aircraft, which have different needs.

Technology lawyer Gabriel Voisin, from law firm Bird and Bird, said the Ministry of Transport's review shows there is an interest in drawing up a drone-friendly regulation.

But he added: "The real difficulty will be to balance issues of safety, privacy and public opinion with the interest of the industry."

lesterh@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Feb 24, 2015.
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