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Man admits to flying drone near Paya Lebar Air Base without permit, in first such conviction

SINGAPORE — A 37-year-old man who flew a drone at an open field in Punggol, about 1.7km away from the Paya Lebar Air Base, has become the first person here to be convicted of illegally flying an unmanned aircraft near an airbase.

Man admits to flying drone near Paya Lebar Air Base without permit, in first such conviction

Ed Chen Junyuan, 37, (pictured) has become the first person in Singapore to be convicted of flying drones without a permit near an airbase.

SINGAPORE — A 37-year-old man who flew a drone at an open field in Punggol, about 1.7km away from the Paya Lebar Air Base, has become the first person here to be convicted of illegally flying an unmanned aircraft near an airbase.

Ed Chen Junyuan pleaded guilty on Friday (Oct 25) to one charge under the Air Navigation Order, which carries a maximum fine of S$20,000. Repeat offenders can be jailed for up to 15 months, fined up to S$40,000 or both.

Chen did not have a Class 2 activity permit before operating his 357g DBPower FPV drone for recreational purposes within 5km of an airport or airbase. He will return to court to be sentenced on Nov 4.

He and his friend, 40-year-old Tay Miow Seng, were the first individuals prosecuted for such an offence. Tay’s case is still pending.

FLEW DRONES TILL BATTERIES DIED

The court heard that on June 26 this year, Chen asked Tay to teach him how to operate the drone, which he had just bought online.

The duo met at the open field near 128C Punggol Field Walk, just opposite Chen’s home, at about 9pm later that day.

Chen flew his drone for about five to six minutes, and it reached a maximum height of about two storeys. Tay also brought his 430g DJI drone along and flew it at the same time.

They continued doing this until the batteries went flat and the drones were grounded. Shortly after that, an off-duty officer with the Republic of Singapore Air Force, who worked at Paya Lebar Air Base, arrived at the field.

The officer had received an alert broadcast to all airbase staff about a drone being sighted in the vicinity.

He drove towards the location and saw blinking lights at the field, so he hurried over and caught the pair.

DEFENCE SEEKS S$500 TO S$1,000 FINE, DPP ASKS FOR S$3,000 FINE

Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Dwayne Lum sought a fine of S$3,000, arguing that unregulated operation of drones, especially close to air bases, poses “serious consequences for aircraft safety”.

The prosecutor pointed to two recent drone incursions at Changi Airport, the second of which took place two days before Chen’s offence. He also said that it was lucky Chen and Tay had not lost control of their drones despite flying them until the batteries went flat.

Meanwhile, Chen’s lawyers — Mr Josephus Tan and Mr Cory Wong from Invictus Law Corporation — pushed for a lower fine of between S$500 and S$1,000.

Chen’s case was unlike the two drone incursions where runway operations and flights were affected, as no harm was caused, they said.

The lawyers added that Chen had also flown the drone over a secluded field where no one would have been hurt if the drone fell.

The only people present were the two men and their wives.

“There was an obvious absence of flight-restriction notices or signs at the open field in question. Given that Chen’s case is not the first time that drone activities had been detected around air bases, it was regrettable that no such notices were put up at such locations where drones were likely to be flown,” Mr Tan said.

While Chen had not known what the rules were, DPP Lum said that should not be a reason to give him a “slap on the wrist”.

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drone court crime

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