Constraints of our RSAF Air Bases

(also known as “Why must RSAF aircraft fly over my house?”)

Editor: This article is based on information and graphics which were presented to the public during the RSAF Open House 2016. We would like to thank the RSAF, especially Malcom Koh from AFIC, for allowing us the usage of the key information presented in this article.

“Why are the RSAF jets flying so low?”
“Why must the aircraft fly over our HDB flats?”
“Doesn’t the RSAF have other flight paths to fly into?”
“Why so noisy when taking off?”
Sounds familiar?

One of the “popular” feedback the RSAF has received over the years is the flight path of its aircraft and the noise it generates. With a land area of about 719 km2, it is inevitable that RSAF aircraft will overfly certain residential areas in Singapore. In this article, we take a look at the flight path constraints faced by each of the RSAF air bases.

F15SG_landingRSAF F-15SG returing to Paya Lebar Airbase

Paya Lebar Air Base (PLAB)

Located on the eastern side of the island, it is the closest air base to Changi Airport, and as such, has to ensure it doesn’t affect civil aviation operations with its flight paths.

Why can’t the aircraft turn earlier?

singapour04Airports and RSAF Airbases in Singapore

By turning earlier, the aircraft may not gain enough height during take off, and may generate even more noise as it has to use more engine power to gain altitude.

Why can’t the aircraft turn later?


By turning later, the aircraft will fly past our territorial boundaries and intrude into our neighbour’s airspace, which is prohibited.

Why can’t the aircraft turn towards Changi?


Aircraft turning into the Changi Controlled airspace will interfere with the civil air traffic and cause a disruption.

Tengah Air Base (TAB)

TAB has unique constraints due to the presence of the SAFTI Live Firing Area next to it, and this restricts the take off and landing flight paths.

Why is this TAB’s primary flight route?


In permissible weather conditions, the primary departure flight path will bring the aircraft over the waters along the straits. However, during periods of live firing conducted in the SAFTI Live Firing Area, alternative profiles are flown at a higher altitude to reduce the noise level.

Why do aircraft land from the south?


To avoid airspace infringement in our neighbour’s airspace, and to ensure a smoother air traffic flow, all aircraft landing at TAB approach from the south. The landing procedure is a very critical phase, so there cannot be any major changes to the flight course.

Sembawang Air Base (SBAB)

RSAF rotary platforms are based at SBAB, and they usually conduct flying training over the nature reserve southwest of SBAB, Pasir Laba, Yishun Reclaimed Land and the vicinity of Pulau Pawai.

Main helicopter transit routes


During training, helicopters transit mainly via the coastal areas of the island. A pre-defined flight path which ensures minimal flight over buildings and residential estates reduces the noise pollution. However, in certain cases, some flights over residential estates is still inevitable.

SBAB arrival and departure routes


All helicopters departing and returning to SBAB utilise a flight path that is clear of residential areas via a western corridor that connects directly to the Central Catchment Nature Reserve.



Aerial objects flown near aircraft can distract pilots or be ingested by aircraft engines, endangering the lives of those on board the aircraft and on the ground. Aerial activities cannot be conducted in the vicinity of airports or air bases without a permit.

In the other parts of the island, kites and parasails can be flown or operated up to 500 feet, and model aircraft and unmanned airships operated up to 200 feet. Shining a laser light at an aircraft presents a very strong hazard to the safety of the aircraft as it can cause discomfort, distract or confuse the pilots. It is against the the law to shine laser lights at any aircraft, and anyone caught will be arrested and prosecuted.

Text and graphics created by Gary Ng.

MAphotoSG (Military Aviation Photography Singapore), is proudly represented by a number of dedicated individuals who are passionate about military aviation. Through our photography, we have captured some of the “first” images of RSAF Exclusive 2016 Airshow Preview,  RSAF’s 142 Sqn tail art on F-15SG, and Exercise Commando Sling 16-2. We also bring you selected news from Singapore and International which we feel that will be interesting and important to share. Our Co-founder, David and one of our member, Eric were featured by TODAY Paper (a Singapore newspaper published by MediaCorp) for 2016 Airshow featured article in Feb 2016! Click here to learn more about the team!

29 thoughts on “Constraints of our RSAF Air Bases”

  1. 1. Why are all military bases runways run in a north south direction? If they were reorientated in a east west direction, would it have made a difference?

    2. Why cant the aircrafts takeoff in a southward direction?

    1. I am guessing that it is due to the nature of the weather here. We hardly see winds coming from the east/western directions but more of the north south direction, and all planes have to take off against the wind so that explains it. For the 2nd one, not too sure actually but could be due to the wind direction as well.

    2. 1) Not only military runways, our airport runways are also aligned this way. Singapore is longer East-West than North-South. This means that for takeoff and landings planes will fly over lesser residential areas if they were flying North-South rather than East-West. Other factors such as wind direction and the position of the sun would also affect the decision to align our runways North-South instead of East-West.

      2) For easier management of air traffic, runways usually operate in one direction, be it for takeoff or landing. This would prevent a plane taking off flying into a plane making a landing approach. It is easier for a plane to change direction after taking off than when it is making a landing approach. Since our airspace is so limited in the north, it only makes sense for planes to make landing approaches from the south where we have more airspace which includes the airspace over the Singapore Strait south of Singapore, so they can have an easier time to align properly with the runways before landing.

      Changi’s runways change direction once every half a year or so though, to account for prevailing wind direction. But this is possible because only commercial flights are allowed to enter Malaysian airspace and therefore planes can make their final approach perfectly aligned to the runway while still in Malaysian airspace from the north, in addition to the southern approach.

    3. Takeoff and landing directions are determined by the prevailing winds. It’s always preferable to takeoff/land into the wind.

    4. Think about our primary geographical threats in terms of military mobilisation. Every second counts. Where do you think the aircraft can be headed towards?
      Remember, too, that the air bases have been around since before independence and were strategic locations selected by the British when the entire island functioned as a military base.

    5. 1. Runways are generally built into the predominant wind direction for the location. This is to minimize the crosswind component for aircrafts taking off and landing. High crosswinds can be a huge risk factor.

      Singapore’s predominant wind direction is generally North-South.

      2. This requires a little knowledge about how the traffic pattern of a runway is. Basically, if an aircraft is taking off towards the South, aircraft have to land coming in from the North forming a race track shape. As shown in the pictures and explained, there isn’t much maneuvering space to the North.

      Just my 2 cents worth,

    6. 1. If you take a look at the runways of Singapore’s airfield, you would realised that the “north-south” orientation is not limited to military airfields. This is because Singapore is affected by two monsoon seasons that goes in opposite directions. The northeast monsoon and southwest monsoon. The runways are constructed to face the directions of headwind (incoming wind). An aircraft usually takes off and lands facing headwind so as to reduce it’s groundspeed. For example, it is the southwest monsoon now, so generally military planes and civilian planes (in changi and seletar), takeoff and land in the southerly direction. You can just go to the airport to see. Rearranging the airfields in an east- west direction will subject aircrafts to more crosswind due to the nature of Singapore’s geography, which is more dangerous for taking off and landing.

      2. I am not sure if there is a directive on this, but generally aircrafts do take off in a southerly direction when headwind comes from the south. F-16s in Changi airbase do that. However, looking at the above map and explanation, it would be the same reason as not to intrude into Malaysia’s airspace. By taking off towards the south, the traffic of the runway would be north to south, in other words, the aircrafts have to land from the north. They cannot take off from the south and land from the south. Not entirely sure about this so would appreciate correction.

    7. 2. Exactly. I know that runway traffic goes one way. But since SG is “special”, they should just designated separate times for takeoff and landings.

      Traffic should go in and out from the South at PLAB, so the fighters don’t have to overfly the island.

      For people in Jurong West, it’s fucking annoying to have these fighters approach from over their flats. It makes life hell for night shift workers whose sleep gets screwed by RSAF fighters on approach. They should use a North only approach/takeoff.

      I’ve seen fighters make a curving approach to land. Even commercial aircraft pilots could do that…. example: the old Kai Tak airport in HK. Our highly trained military pilots should be able to make non-linear approaches.

    8. They’re oriented that way so as to provide the most amount of headwind on take off and la ding to increase performance. They can take off to the north or south depending on the time of year which will dictate where the prevailing wind is coming from

    1. I highly doubt the RSN has enough personnel to support an aircraft carrier. Unless major changes are made to the NSF allocation. Also, most modern aircraft carriers are nuclear powered, which would open up another can of worms.

    2. Assuming it’s a nimitz class, that puts us as “owning” nuclear. Then we need 4000~5000 military personnel to put onboard the ship. Then we need a whole lot of arsenal, new aircraft possibly the F-35s and most of all a place to dock although a nimitz only refuels every 30~40 years.

    3. if one follow the happening n development, u know its there in a matter of time. except that concept of the carrier will not be the usual standard one.

    4. Manpower reasons have already been covered by the replies below on why we can’t have an aircraft carrier. The other 2 reasons would be the amount of naval support required by an aircraft carrier and regional politics.

      An aircraft carrier needs to have a large group of escorts when in operation. These include destroyers, frigates etc. Given that we need people to mend these ships means that we have to increase the size of the RSN, which can’t be done for political reasons.

      Singapore’s armed forces are present as a deterent to any aggressor so as to maintain the peace of the country (and region). By increasing the size of the RSN, we could be seen as becoming an aggressor ready to strike.. that’s something that we don’t want, especially given the sensitivity of the region we’re in.

  2. Why can’t we build our airbase offshore? Cant we refill some of our islands like what some countries are doing and build an airbase on an island? to a plane, the distance is practically nothing.

    1. Sure the distance to the plane is nothing. What about the pilot that has to travel there? What about the ground crew? The logistics? So in the event of a scramble can we respond fast enough to react to the threat?

    2. We do have an airbase offshore. However, in times of emergency, having an airbase on the mainland would allow our armed forces to mobilize faster than to have it offshore due to infrastructure, i.e road, rail network is faster than taking boats to the island. We would want to be sitting ducks while waiting for our pilots, flight engineers, arming crew etc to take boat to the island before they can be effective.

  3. Just like to know are we giving away to much information to Public . I am concern of our security

    Ex RSAF Veteran

    1. Hi V. Bala,
      Thanks for your concern.
      Please rest assured that these information was put up for public viewing during recent RSAF Open House 2016.
      RSAF AFIC has given approval for the usage.

      We are very aware of security, we wouldn’t want to get into trouble with the authorities as well.

  4. Keep the flyboys (and girls) up in the air near us.
    They are the reason our residential areas cannot be built high
    and we can still enjoy the blue skies!!
    How can often do the jets pass that we cannot tolerate
    to get a clear view of the blue sky for the rest of the day?
    We already have too much land given to condos, depriving
    simple joys like kite flying in open grounds.

  5. More and more residents are now in Punggol and Sengkang Estates. It is very disturbing as flying these days generating high level of noise ! Who is monitoring the decibels ? and if yes, what has been the decibels in Sengkang ?

    If take off and landing is Southward in the direction towards the sea, it helps to rid off lots of noise which I believe so.

    I have been given stupid replies from the airfoce. Nothing concrete but each time was a ‘temp-plate’ reply or answer. Don’t keep asking the residents to be understanding, it is the airforce needs to be understanding ! When it hits the max, we just have to voice our unhappiness and discomfort.

    Try building more landed properties along the flight path and see what will happen. Try arranging low flight path above Bukit Timah (district 9) and see what will happen. Nothing is carved out of stone. Nothing is impossible, it is how serious you wanna view it !

  6. Why do the pilots need to blast out loudly when they are flying lowly . This particular aircraft was blasting over Sengkang at around 8.16pm on 11 April, apparently, getting to land.
    What is RSAF doing to maintain the noise pollution ?

  7. I have stay in Sengkang since 2005, If I don’t recall wrongly, there was hardly any heavy flying during that period.
    But after paya lebar was confirm moving in the future, there was more flying.
    Is it they have too much fuel being store and best way is to conduct more flying and use up faster to reduce cost of transporting the fuel to new location?
    Just my simple minded thinking.

  8. Curious about the closure of Paya Lebar …

    Granted we may move to F35B which will reduce runway needs, surely it makes more sense to keep the air base with the longer runway regardless.

    Why not shut down Sembawang instead. Marginally smaller area but still plenty.

    Instead keep Tengah, PLAB plus Changi East expanded.

    Would it be possible to operate rotary assets at Tengah and PLAB (maybe split one base for attack and the other for assault/heavy lift)?

    Even with F35B, surely we will need as many runways as possible. In the event of conflict escalation, bearing in mind experiences with Hamas in Israel, its all too easy to shut down runways lobbing primitive rockets at them. BUT surely the more runways (plus secondary roadways) the better in this scenario.

    Hence why not keep PLAB, redevelop Sembawang instead (SBAB runway being much shorter)

    Particularly with the healthy number of fighter assets we have to juggle. It also leaves less stress on Changi air base and allows for better future capacity for civilian airport expansion beyond current plans.

    In fact also wondering if its worth keeping Seletar at all. Surely if loading on Changi is reduced if we keep PLAB, surely all private operations at Seletar could be accomodated at say Changi West and around new facilities being built at the airport currently. This in particular with flight restrictions from neighbours making it difficult at Seletar.

    I’m not sure I understand the logic behind shutting down PLAB.


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