Singapore Parliament passes drones regulation bill

Singapore Parliament passes drones regulation bill

Members of the Singapore Parliament voted yesterday (11 May) to pass the Unmanned Aircraft (Public Safety and Security) Bill. The bill, which was introduced by Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew on 13 April, amends the Air Navigation Act and takes effect from June.

One of the potential uses to which unmanned aircraft – or drones – are currently being put is delivering post and packages. Amazon has already indicated its willingness to develop the new technology and drone manufacturer Workhorse Group Inc. is in the running to be on to the shortlist for the United States Postal Service’s (USPS) fleet renewal programme.

In the debate in the Singapore Parliament yesterday, non-constituency MP Gerald Giam, of the Workers’ Party, questioned whether the legislation would give the authorities sufficient powers to stop “a determined terrorist from using a drone to fly explosives, or chemical or biological agents into key installations or large crowds”.

Gan Thiam Poh followed this up by asking if the authorities would have the powers to shoot down such a “rogue drone”.

Defending his bill, the Transport Minister said that the authorities would be empowered to assume control of an unmanned aircraft and take the appropriate action which would “depend on the circumstances, taking into consideration the need to ensure public safety”.

Gan also questioned whether the drones could be banned from built-up areas because they might invade the privacy of flat dwellers. Lui said the matter of privacy would probably be dealt with under the existing Penal Code and Protection from Harassment Act 2014 – but added that a committee will be examining to see if any present laws will need to updated in the light of drone usage.

But alongside their security concerns, MPs also spoke enthusiastically about the commercial possibilities offered by drones. Gerald Giam balanced his comments over the threat of terrorism with a request that “the Government should take care to avoid hindering commercial developments by placing too heavy a regulatory burden on the drone market”. Giam added: “This is so that our companies and our local entrepreneurs can benefit from, and contribute to, some of the promising innovations in this exciting new space.”

Giam namechecked Amazon’s “Octocopter” and told his fellow MPs about the work that Amazon and other companies are doing with the US Federal Aviation Administration to test commercial drones that can fly beyond an operator’s line of sight.

“This will open up the possibility for more sophisticated drone operations such as package delivery,” explained Giam.

“While it is still early days for this technology,” he added, “I hope that CAAS remains open to issuing permits, on a case-by-case basis, to companies to test-bed such technologies in Singapore so that we maintain an edge over our overseas competitors.”

Click here to access a PDF of the Unmanned Aircraft (Public Safety and Security) Bill, hosted on the Singapore Parliament’s official website.

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