Air Navigation (Amendment) Bill – Speech by Dennis Tan

(Delivered in Parliament on 4 November 2019)

Prohibition of disclosure of flight recorder information

Mr Speaker, sir, the Air Navigation Amendment Bill seeks to amend Section 3A to prohibit the disclosure of flight recorder information to any court for criminal and civil proceedings except (I quote the bill) “in prescribed circumstances” (unquote). The explanatory note of the Bill states that this amendment is to put Singapore in line with Annex 6 of the Chicago Convention.

I would also like to ask the SMS whether the prohibition against disclosure of flight recorder information, despite the exceptions, will, in any way, allow industry players, interested individuals or parties, or even the authorities to rely on this prohibition unfairly and against public interest or safety to prevent disclosure of information for fear of prejudicing the respective party’s interest or even fear of bad publicity affecting the relevant party. It brings to mind recent media reports of suppression of disclosure by Boeing staff of concerns relating to the Boeing 737 Max aircraft prior to the two crashes which led eventually to the grounding of the aircraft.

Enhanced punishments for illegal drone use    

Adequate public education for drone use and punishments for breaches

The Air Navigation Amendment Bill also seeks to introduce, among other things, increased punishments for illegal use of unmanned aircraft or drones. The increase in punishments will hopefully deter recreational users from using their unmanned aircraft or drones in prohibited areas and will make such users more aware of keeping their use to allowed areas. But changing the law per se and charging the odd person and hoping to make him an example may not be sufficient to ensure that all users know the laws. It is important that the Government must be effective in disseminating to the public especially the drone users the legal restrictions imposed by the law and the enhancements in punishments.

Sometime last year, I saw a foreigner using a drone at a beach in Sentosa and was later stopped by a security person. I wasn’t even sure he was arrested or detained. The person did not seem to know that he was not supposed to use the drone in the vicinity. In some ways, this is like the problem we see with some people who still do not know that PMDs are not supposed to be used in certain areas.

I would like to ask the SMS how does the Government intend to educate all unmanned aircraft or drone users as well as the public on the restrictions for drone use and punishments prescribed by law for illegal uses.

Like the man I saw in Sentosa, I have also seen other tourists or foreigners use such drones in the public. I would like to ask the minister how does the Government ensure that visitors and foreigners are made aware of the restrictions for drone usage and ensuing punishments.

CAAS defences and confidence in preventing future disruptions

Mr Speaker, sir, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen shared with this house last month how SAF is equipped to handle military grade drone attacks on Singapore. He gave assurances to the effect that SAF has the ability to defend against the kind of attacks which were levelled against Saudi oil installations recently.

In an earlier press interview in June this year, Minister Ng also shared that CAAS had asked SAF for professional advice and that SAF has told CAAS (and I quote Mr Ng) “what is out there in the market that they can procure if they want it quickly. What kind of defences they need, and it’s up to CAAS to know what they need.” (unquote). So it seems that SAF has shared its know-how with MOT and CAAS and gave recommendations on the possible technology and equipment which CAAS can consider deploying.

I would like to ask the SMS that since then, what has CAAS done to beef up its anti-drone defences. Can the SMS share with this House some details of the work done?

I would also like to ask the SMS how confident MOT or CAAS is in avoiding flight disruptions in future should there be similar drone intrusions or attacks, at least the  non-weaponised types, if we are to assume that SAF is responsible to handle all weaponised drone attacks. Any such ministerial assurances which can be given in this respect is important for Singapore because, for a major air hub, even if we were to exclude weaponised attacks, Changi airport cannot afford to have its flights randomly affected by drone intrusions.

Any recent incident and identification of culprits for June incidents

I would also like to ask the SMS since the drone incidents in June causing disruptions, has there been any other incidents of drone intrusions which led to flight disruptions or nearly lead to flight disruptions?

Finally, I would also like to ask the SMS whether the Government has identified the operators responsible for the flight disruptions in June 2019 or the person or persons behind the operator. If so, can he share the findings with this House? If not, is the Government confident of finding out who the culprits are?

Mr Speaker sir, less than 2 weeks ago, a passenger drone, also referred to as a flying taxi, went for a lightning spin in Marina Bay generating some publicity. Is this a one-off publicity spin, in which I wonder what is the point of it as we are nowhere near ready for this? Or is the Government even seriously contemplating use of flying taxi in the near future? The thought brings some quivers, not because I do not welcome modern technology. But after what we have seen with the introduction of other drones and PMDs and the inability of the law to prevent transgressions or accidents, how prepared are we, legally speaking, to handle passenger drones?

We must always try and embrace technological advancement or new applications,  but the law must also keep abreast or even stay ahead to regulate technological application and help set the right culture from the onset, instead of playing catch up.

Mr Speaker, notwithstanding my questions and concerns, I support this Bill.