New Bill clears the air for drone enthusiasts

New Bill clears the air for drone enthusiasts

Drone enthusiasts now have a better picture of whether they need a permit to fly their devices and where they can do so.

The Unmanned Aircraft (Public Safety and Security) Bill, which Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew introduced in Parliament yesterday, aims to provide clear guidelines for the safe use of unmanned aircraft here.

For example, operators must get a permit to fly a drone that weighs more than 7kg.

Even if their drones weigh less than 7kg, they must still get a permit if they want to fly it within 5km of an aerodrome, or at altitudes above 200ft (61m) above mean sea level when they are 5km or more outside of an aerodrome.

A permit is required for drones used for commercial purposes. This includes hiring a drone operator to take pictures of an outdoor wedding or shoot a music video.

Permits are also required for specialised services, such as surveying, aerial advertising or flying display performances or if the operator plans to discharge any substance - liquid, gas or solid - from the drone.

Users of these drones will also have to apply for a permit to fly over or near certain security-sensitive areas, and to take photographs in them. Similar regulations will apply for "special event areas", or venues designated for major events, such as some areas of the upcoming SEA Games.

What will be a complete no-no is the carrying of dangerous materials, such as weapons, or bio-chemical or radioactive material by drones. Offenders can be fined up to $100,000, jailed for up to five years, or both.

Those who breach the other regulations could be fined up to $20,000, jailed for up to 12 months, or both, when the new law takes effect, likely to be on June 1. The new regulations will mean hobbyists who use drones for recreational and private purposes can do so without a permit.

Even so, the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) in a statement yesterday encouraged such users to do so safely. Among the tips: fly in good visibility and weather conditions, and keep the drone within sight at all times.

Applying for a permit can be quite tedious, said drone operator Rude Lee, 33, from aerial photography company Skyshot. He cited how applications to CAAS could get bounced to different agencies, including the Home Affairs Ministry and air force.

"If the new system can lead to a shorter approval time (from the current wait of two weeks), that will be good for drone companies too," he said.

CAAS yesterday said it will serve as the one-stop centre for all permit applications from June.

This article was first published on April 14, 2015.
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