YOUth should know: 5 things about flying unmanned aircraft in Singapore

Unmanned aircraft can include drones, remote-controlled kites and radio-controlled aircraft.

Fitri Mahad

Probably the only person that likes to hear the koels go ‘uwu’.

Published: 15 December 2022, 5:58 PM

Unmanned aircraft (UA), which includes drones and remote-controlled kites, will see an increase in select regulation fees come Dec 23.

The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) explained the increase will take place in two phases, where the second phase will take effect on Jan 15, 2024. 

As you read this, you might be asking yourself some of these questions  – What counts as “unmanned”? Do I need to register for a licence? Where can I even fly the aircraft?

Here are five things you should know about operating UAs in Singapore:

1. What is an “unmanned aircraft”? Can anyone just operate it?

UAs are aircraft which can be flown or used without a person on board to operate it. These include drones, radio-controlled aircraft and remote-controlled kites.

However, all UAs will need to be registered and you must be at least 16 years old to do so. Those below 16 must ensure that the UA is registered by someone eligible and have obtained their permission to use it.

Any UA with a total weight of above 250g must also be registered before it can be operated in Singapore. 

Registration will take two steps: The purchase of a registration label online or select post offices, followed by an online registration through the UA Portal.

2. Do I need a licence or training to operate an unmanned aircraft? Can I just use it afterwards?

Not all operators need to receive basic training or obtain an UA pilot’s licence.

Those with UAs that weigh more than 1.5kg and below 7kg will need to undergo the one-time basic training. The UAs must be used for educational or recreational purposes.

UA Basic Training is conducted by CAAS-approved Basic Training Organisations

Operators with UAs used for commercial purposes, regardless of its weight, will need to obtain their licence. This also applies to UAs above 7kg meant for recreational and educational use. 

To apply for a licence, operators must first register for a CAPELS account and undergo a theory test and a practical assessment. Upon clearing those, they can submit their UAPL application through CAPELS. Successful applicants can view the licence with the SGFlight mobile app when it’s approved. 

Even with the necessary licence and training, operators cannot just use their UAs without getting the relevant permits from CAAS. 

Operators are presented with two choices of permits: Operator Permits, which are valid for a year, and Activity Permits.

Figuring out which permit to choose will depend on the kind of purpose the UA will be used for. 

Operator Permits are granted through an assessment if the applicants can show that they are able to operate the UA in a safe manner. This is usually acquired by companies and organisations that use UAs in their day-to-day operations. 

Activity Permits allow you to use the UAs for a single activity, or a period of repeated activities. It will consider several factors including the UA’s weight, activity location and operating altitude (how high it can fly).

3. Why increase the regulation fees?

With UAs being used more often on a daily basis, they will need to be regulated to ensure public safety and that it does not disrupt other aviation activities.

Unregulated use of UAs can potentially lead to its abuse, such as being used to invade one’s privacy or interfering and endangering larger aircraft ferrying multiple passengers and crew.

More regulation efforts will incur more costs, hence the increase in certain fees. 

Nine regulatory fees, including permit fees, will see various increases. 14 other regulatory fees will remain the same. The “copy or replacement of document” fee has been removed.

4. Where can I fly my unmanned aircraft?

There are areas in Singapore where you are not allowed to fly your UAs, otherwise known as No Fly Zones. The UA cannot be flown higher than 200 feet above mean sea level without obtaining the relevant said permits.

Operators can use the OneMap app to identify where these No Fly Zones are located, and will be informed on which areas require certain permits to operate their UAs.

They should also adhere to signs that prohibit the use of UAs and model flying aircraft, especially in areas such as national parks, nature reserves and private property.

5. What can I do and not do with my unmanned aircraft?

Much like operating any vehicle or device, there are dos and don’ts that come with using your UA.

According to CAAS, operators are advised to read their product’s user manual to familiarise themselves with its operating principles. Operators are also advised to check on the condition of their UA and its controller.

They should also keep their UA within their line of sight at all times, and land their UA immediately should they spot an aircraft in the vicinity.

Users are discouraged from flying their UAs in the event of strong winds, rain or when there is poor visibility.

CAAS warns that UAs cannot be flown higher than 200 feet above sea level nor within 5km of any airport or military airbase.

UAs must never be flown above groups of people, public events, or areas full of people. Those under the influence of drugs or alcohol must not operate the UA as well.

They cannot be used to carry hazardous substances, nor used to drop or discharge substances.

UAs must never be flown near any road, nor areas where there is an ongoing emergency response effort.

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