Everything about the new drone laws

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), commonly known as drones, are aircrafts controlled remotely by people not on board the machine. Cameras may be attached to allow them to take aerial photos or videos of their surroundings. Drones have become more popular in Singapore for both recreational and commercial activities as they become increasingly inexpensive.

If not properly operated, drones may pose safety concerns. According to Minister for Transport Lui Tuck Yew, there have been at least 20 reported incidents involving drones since April 2014. This year, there have been two incidents of drones falling onto MRT tracks so far. In both cases, the drones had been flown near the tracks and their operators had lost control of them.

To better regulate the operation of drones and reduce the occurrence of accidents, the Unmanned Aircraft (Public Safety and Security) Act 2015 has been passed and is now in effect as of 1 June 2015. The Act makes amendments to the existing Air Navigation Act (ANA), Air Navigation Order (ANO) and Public Order Act. The law on drones will be administered by Singapore’s existing aviation authority, the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS).

The situations in which a permit is required to fly a drone are:

  • Within 5 km of aerodromes
  • Operating heights greater than 200 ft
  • Flight within protected areas
  • Photography and videography within protected areas
  • Flight within restricted and danger areas

Permit needed to fly drones within 5 km of aerodromes, or at heights greater than 200 ft

Aerodromes are areas and buildings used for aircraft-related activities such as taking off, landing and servicing. Examples of these include airports and military airbases. As these are sensitive areas, drones cannot be freely flown near them. Drones also cannot be flown too high as they may interfere with flight paths of aeroplanes.

Accordingly, under section 72D of the amended ANO, drones cannot enter within 5 km of an aerodrome or be flown at heights greater than 200 ft (equivalent to about 60 m or 12 building storeys) above mean sea level. If you wish to do either, you will have to apply for a permit.

Under section 80 of the same Order, persons found guilty of operating their drones within 5 km of aerodromes or at heights greater than 200 ft without a permit will be fined up to $10,000 and up to $20,000 for subsequent convictions.

Permit needed to fly drones in protected areas

The Minister for Transport may restrict the number of places in which drones can be flown by declaring certain areas as protected areas. If you wish to fly your drone in these protected areas, you will have to apply for a permit. A list of protected areas may be found in the Air Navigation (Protected Areas) Order 2015. Examples include police stations, airports and the Istana.

Under section 7A of the amended ANA, drone operators found guilty of flying drones within protected areas without a permit will be fined up to $20,000 and/or jailed up to 1 year. This is even if the drone operator did not know the area was a protected area. However, it will be a defence if the drone operator had not intended to fly the drone into the area, and had taken care not to do so.

Permit needed to take photos and videos of protected areas with drones

Under section 7 of the amended ANA, you will also need a permit to use a drone to take photos or videos of protected areas. If found guilty of doing so without a permit, the drone operator – and the camera operator, if the drone operator is not the one operating the camera – will be fined up to $20,000 and/or jailed for up to 1 year. This is even if the drone operator did not know the area was a protected area or that the drone was equipped with a camera.

Permit needed to fly drones in restricted areas and danger areas

Similar to protected areas, the CAAS may also designate certain areas to be restricted areas or danger areas where drones cannot be flown without permits. These areas primarily consist of areas where military operations are conducted. The list of restricted areas and danger areas is regularly updated in the Aeronautical Information Publication Singapore, which contains essential information on air navigation in Singapore.

Under section 80 of the ANO, persons found guilty of flying their drones in restricted areas and danger areas without a permit will be fined up to $10,000 and up to $20,000 for subsequent convictions.

So which permit(s) will I need and how much will they cost?

The table below lists the permits required for the various drone and operation types.

drone permit table

(permit information obtained from CAAS website)

In summary, flying drones for commercial purposes requires Operator and Class 1 Activity Permits regardless of total weight or operating location and height. The same goes for drones weighing more than 7 kg and used for non-commercial purposes. A Class 2 Activity Permit is required to fly drones weighing 7 kg or less for non-commercial purposes if the drones are flown within 5 km of aerodromes, or above 200 ft. As long as your drone:

(1)   Weighs less than 7 kg; and

(2)   Is flown:

  1. For non-commercial purposes;
  2. More than 5 km away from an aerodrome; and
  3. Not higher than 200 ft;

you will not need a permit to fly it.

The permit fees are as follows:

Permit type Fees
Operator Permit
New permit: operator assessment + first drone type $600
Every additional drone type $400
Renewal of permit $200
Class 1 Activity Permit
Each activity or block of same activity (e.g. same location, same type of operations, same type of drone) $75
Repeat activity (from previous Activity Permit) with new dates/times only $25
Class 2 Activity Permit
Each activity or block of same activity (e.g. same location, same type of operations, same type of drone) $75
Repeat activity (from previous Activity Permit) with new dates/times only $25

(fees information obtained from CAAS website)

Applications for permits have to be submitted at least 2 weeks in advance. You can expect to obtain your permit(s) between 5 to 10 working days, depending on the types of permits required.

You may apply for a permit here.

For more information, you are advised to contact the CAAS directly, which will be able to give you further advice tailored specifically to your situation.

Final advice

Apart from obtaining the required permits, do remember to exercise utmost care when handling your drone. On 31 May 2015, popular singer Enrique Iglesias attempted to pull his regular stunt of reaching for a camera-equipped drone in flight during a concert in Mexico. Instead of giving his audience a better view of the stage however, he accidentally grabbed the drone’s blades, slicing open several fingers in the process. He later had to see a specialist for reconstructive hand surgery.

This article was written by Tan Siew Ann.

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