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Drone sightings disrupt multiple flights at Singapore airport

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Drone sightings have caused 63 flights to be delayed or diverted in the past week at Singapore’s Changi Airport, authorities have said, triggering an investigation.

According to the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore, around 18 flights at the airport were delayed and seven flights diverted at the airport late on Tuesday (25 June) “due to bad weather and unauthorised drone activities”.

The civil aviation authority said that the disruption lasted about an hour.

Changi, one of Asia’s busiest hubs, closed one of its runways last week (Tuesday 18 June to Wednesday 19 June) for short periods due to unauthorised drone flying.

These sightings caused the intermittent closure of a runway, delaying 37 flights and diverting one arriving plane to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia.

“A multi-agency team including the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore, Changi Airport Group, Singapore Armed Forces and the Singapore Police Force was activated for the search and locate operations,” the regulator added.

Investigations are currently ongoing; however, no details of drones involved, along with the perpetrators have been provided by the Singaporean authorities.

Shortly after the news broke out about the drone activity at the airport, Singapore’s defence ministry posted a photograph of a soldier pointing a jammer gun at a “rogue drone” on Facebook.

While the photo was not taken at Changi, the defence ministry hinted at the anti-drone technologies that may be used to track down offenders.

Drones are largely controlled by operators via a radio control link, on a frequency that is similar to Wi-Fi – a jammer gun can temporarily disable this connection.

“In absence of a control link, most drones are designed to switch into 'fail-safe' mode and may either attempt to return to its original location or immediately land,” said Foong Shaohui, an associate professor who researches unmanned systems at the Singapore University of Technology and Design.

“It would be possible to identify the operators by analysing the information stored in the drone,” he added.

Unauthorised drone activity is dangerous around airports because of the risk of collision with planes that are taking off and landing. Under Singaporean law, drones cannot be flown within 5km (3.1 miles) of airports or military bases without a permit. The offence carries a maximum penalty of a year’s jail term and a fine of 20,000 Singapore dollars.

Changi Airport is among the world’s busiest airports, handling a record of 65.6 million passengers last year.

There has been a series of disruptions at various airports over the past year or so, with Gatwick Airport being closed during the Christmas period of 2018 and Dubai International Airport temporarily halting flights in February 2019 following alleged drone sightings.

Even in January this year, the UK’s defence secretary at the time, Gavin Williamson, urged that all UK airports should install anti-drone equipment as the Royal Air Force (RAF) cannot deal with every incident where drones are flown near runways.

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