Dubai becomes world's first city to monitor drones

Bernd Debusmann Jr. (Chief Reporter)/Dubai Filed on April 26, 2016 | Last updated on April 26, 2016 at 07.33 am
Dubai becomes worlds first city to monitor drones
The Exponent Portal software will allow local authorities to track the location, speed and height of drones, as well as view and record the material being collected by the drone's on-board camera.

(File photo used for illustrative purpose)

New technology to monitor drones near airports in real-time

Dubai will soon become the first place in the world to implement real-time tracking software to monitor the operations of commercial drones in restricted airspace, according to officials from the Dubai Civil Aviation Authority (DCAA). 

The Exponent Portal software - which was publicly unveiled for the first time at a live demonstration at the World Aviation Safety Summit in Dubai on Monday - will allow DCAA officials and other local authorities to track the location, speed and height of drones, as well as view and record the material being collected by the drone's on-board camera. 

The system works through a 160-gramme add-on that is to be fitted onto drones before flight.

"Beyond the issuance of a no-objection certificate, we are able to monitor what the RPAS (remotely piloted aircraft system) operator is doing," explained Michael Rudolph, DCAA's Head of Aviation Regulations and Safety. "Should there be any transgressions, we are advised of that." 

Recent security incidents involving drones

> April 2016: Drone strikes British Airways plane at Heathrow Airport. At approximately 12.50am, a pilot on an inbound flight into Heathrow Airport from Geneva reported to police that he believed a drone had struck the aircraft.

> March 2016: A drone came within a close range of 200 feet of hitting a Lufthansa jet near Los Angeles International Airport on March 18. The pilot of a Lufthansa A380 approaching the airport reported that a drone passed about overhead around 1.30pm. 

> January 2015: Recreational drones forced the closure of Dubai airport for 55 minutes after they veered dangerously close to the flight path of commercial airliners. As a result, some aircraft had to be diverted to Al Maktoum Airport in Jebel Ali. 

Using the Exponent Portal, both the DCAA and the drone operator are immediately notified - including via near-instant SMS messages - when the drone strays outside of a pre-determined "geo-fenced" area in which the vehicle is permitted to fly.

"At that time, we are able to give the operator a phone call," Rudolph said. "If we weren't able to monitor this live, we would be able to recall the information at a later day, either to call the operator in and rap him on the knuckles or otherwise show him where the transgression has taken place ... and make sure it doesn't happen again." 

Additionally, the software's ability to monitor the drone's video feed will allow authorities - such as the Ministry of Defence - to ensure that video is not taken of sensitive areas. 

"(They) will be able to determine immediately whether there is something that needs to be censored before it can be sent to production, whether they need to call that entity in and censor the smart card from the camera, or whether it is acceptable," Rudolph noted. 

Regulating drones

Khalid Al Arif, Director of DCAA's Standards and Regulations Department, noted that the DCAA "is in the process' of signing a memorandums of understanding with various government entities - including the Dubai Police - to work together to regulate drones.

Rudolph noted that the DCAA has a registration system that provides registration card for various kinds of drone operators, including hobbyists, professionals (such as drone racers), commercial operators who derive an income from drone operations, and government drone operators. 

The DCAA has also been handing out pamphlets and materials to drone operators and students that explain the registration and permission process, no-fly zones, as well as provide guidelines for safe and lawful flights. 

DCAA's moves come at a time that aviation professionals are growing increasingly concerned about near misses between drones and aircraft. In March, for example, the US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) announced that it had detected 600 near misses over a five-month time period. 

"It (drones) is an entity that is both good and bad. The good being that it provides for fantastic videography that you see on a daily basis on YouTube," Rudolph said. "The bad thing is the negative connotations attached to the impact that it has to commercial operations.

"We are trying to find synergy between operators, but we also need to understand that we need to keep the airspace of Dubai safe," he added. 


Bernd Debusmann Jr.

Originally from Mexico City, I've been in Dubai since January 2015. Before arriving in in the UAE I worked as a general news reporter in TV and print in Mexico City, NYC and Washington DC. I'm interested in defence issues, politics, technology, aviation and history. In my spare time i enjoy traveling and football - I'm a keen fan of Chelsea FC. I developed an interest in the Middle East traveling through Jordan and the West Bank. I have a BA in Political Science from Dickinson College in the USA and an MA in International Journalism from City University London.

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