SINGAPORE, July 1 — The recent drone activity that disrupted operations at Changi Airport is receiving “top-level” attention, said Singapore Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen.

This is because of the potential disruption to scores of passengers and the threat to safety.

In an interview Friday, Ng also warned potential errant drone operators to “desist” because they would face “punitive” consequences.

“We are working closely with the police, and when we apprehend these errant operators, I think that a strong signal must be sent that (there can be) very bad consequences if you engage in these activities,” Ng told reporters at the interview to mark Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Day, which falls today.

“Nothing untoward has happened yet and you really do not want to wait for... a catastrophe before you act.”

On June 18 and 19, unauthorised drone activity over Changi Airport held up 37 departing and arriving flights. Another arriving flight was diverted to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

One of the airport’s two runways had been suspended for short periods.

The SAF, Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS), airport operator Changi Airport Group and the police took part in search-and-locate operations.

Less than a week later, on June 24, 18 or so departing and arriving flights were delayed and seven others diverted because of unauthorised drone activity and bad weather.

Ng, who was speaking at Murai Camp, stressed Changi Airport’s importance to the Singapore economy, with tens of millions of passengers passing through it each year. “The potential disruption, not to speak of the safety issues, requires this to have top-level attention — and it has,” he said.

The defence minister revealed that the Ministry of Transport (MOT) and CAAS, the primary government agencies dealing with the issue, had sought professional advice from the SAF, Defence Science and Technology Agency, and DSO National Laboratories, Singapore’s largest defence research-and-development organisation.

“We have told the CAAS what is out there in the market that they can procure if they want (it) quickly, (and) what kind of defences they need,” he added.

“What I understand is that they know that they have to use a suite of levers, including enforcement.”

When approached for an update on the progress in identifying the culprits, an MOT spokesperson would only say that investigations were continuing.

TODAY understands that the government is likely to give more details about the matter at the next Parliament sitting on July 8.

Asked if he was confident that the authorities’ capabilities to take down these drones were sufficient, Ng cited examples of drone attacks in airports elsewhere, such as London’s Gatwick, where drone sightings in December last year forced it to shut for 33 hours. This led to about 1,000 flights being cancelled or delayed.

“If you wanted to shut down the airspace, you could, but the consequences are very large because, don’t forget ... planes need to fly and they also depend on communications,” Ng said.

The SAF’s equipment will continue to be deployed to support Changi Airport’s operations as part of a “whole-of-Government” effort to deal with the matter.

“The SAF assets are out there trying to neutralise these drones,” he said.

“I know that the police are hard at work, too, together with us, to apprehend these culprits.”

No one is allowed to fly drones within five km of airports and military airbases here, or at altitudes above 200ft (61m), without a permit. Those found flouting the regulations could be fined up to S$20,000, (RM61,000) jailed up to 12 months, or both. — TODAY