Urgent need to implement drone laws in UAE
Airports in Dubai and Abu Dhabi have been occasionally closed because of drones operating close to flying aircraft.
There are currently around 400 drones registered in the UAE, most of them for commercial use. Private individuals may use drones that are not fitted with photo or video cameras, but it is illegal for them to use drones fitted with cameras over the air space of UAE.
However, according to the UAE General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA), there is no stopping an individual from buying a drone in the UAE and use it illegally.
Currently, GCAA is working with companies selling drones in the country to inform all their customers on drones' regulations and possibly only allow sales to licensed individuals and organisations.
After closing the Abu Dhabi airport twice and the Dubai airport three times because of drones operating too close to flying aircrafts, the issue of regulating drones has become a necessity and the latest updates on this topic were discussed on Monday at the second Drones Middle East Conference in Abu Dhabi.
"Around 15 to 20 percent of the UAE GDP is related to aviation and when incidents like Dubai International Airport was closed because of drones, millions of dirhams were lost," pointed out Michael Herrero, area manager of International Air Transport Association for Gulf region.
According to him, it is only a matter of time before drones would cause loss of lives, unless the regulations for their use is standardised internationally.
In the UAE, GCAA set up drones operating regulations in 2015.
"The GCAA is required to authorize the operation of civil unmanned aerial vehicles within civil airspace over the territory of the UAE," pointed out Waleed Al Riyami, air navigation inspector at GCAA.
"The majority of applications we receive, 90 per cent, are for small drones of five kilograms or less," he added.
The drone use applications come from either private companies or government institutions, sometimes even universities conducting research programmes, and they are largely for surveillance, mapping and monitoring, particularly in the oil and gas industry, farming, environmental research or security such as police surveillance.
GCAA is currently working to improve its e-service applications by including the required approvals from other government departments such as the Ministry of Defence, Department of Transport or municipalities, to create a "one-stop shop" for all applicants.
According to Al Riyami, it takes between one and two weeks for the applications to be approved - or rejected.
"If a camera is involved, the application needs security approval from the Ministry of Defence," he mentioned.
Despite rules being in place, regulatory bodies remain concerned about the risks of using drones remain, not just for UAE, but worldwide.
"There are potential threats of drones carrying explosives or gathering intelligence for malicious purposes or the use of drones to endanger aircrafts or for cyber threats," said Herrero.
With UAE having a very heavy air traffic congestion, the world's third busiest air traffic, the authorities here need to keep a hawk's eye over what is flying in its sky, yet without damaging business, which the drone industry is starting to bring in the country at an ever increasing pace.
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