Regulation must with drone sales soaring: Aviation body
Participants looks on the flight demo by Topcom during 2nd edition of Drones Middle East Conference at Yas Island in Abu Dhabi. Photo By Ryan Lim
Dubai - Around 400 drones are currently registered in the UAE; it is illegal for camera-equipped drones to fly in the UAE airspace
The UAE General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) is currently working with companies selling drones in the country to inform all their customers on the regulations around owning drones, and possibly allow sales only to licensed individuals and organisations.
The concern follows the closing of Abu Dhabi airport twice and the Dubai airport thrice, when drones operated too close to flying aircrafts. So the issue of regulating drones has become a necessity and the latest updates on this topic were discussed on September 26 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 the Dubai International Airport closing because of a drone scare happens, millions of dirhams are lost," said Michael Herrero, area manager of International Air Transport Association for the Gulf region.
According to him, it is only a matter of time before drones could cause loss of lives, unless the regulations surrounding their use are standardised internationally.
Around 400 drones are currently registered in the UAE, most of them used for commercial purposes. Drones without photo or video cameras are permitted for private use, and it is illegal for camera-equipped drones to fly in the UAE airspace. In spite of the regulations, there is no stopping an individual from buying and using a drone illegally in the UAE, says the UAE General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA).
Time to drone on
In the UAE, GCAA set up drones operating regulations in 2015. "The GCAA is required to authorise the operation of civil unmanned aerial vehicles within civil airspace over the territory of the UAE," noted Waleed Al Riyami, air navigation inspector at GCAA. "The majority of applications we receive - 90 per cent - are for small drones weighing 5kg or less," he added.
The maximum use of drones is by private companies and government institutions, sometimes even universities conducting research programmes, and they are largely used for surveillance, mapping and monitoring, particularly in the oil and gas industry, farming, environmental research or security purposes 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 said.
Despite rules being in place, regulatory bodies remain concerned about the risks of using drones, not just in the UAE, but worldwide. "There are potential threats of drones carrying explosives, gathering intelligence for malicious purposes, endangering aircrafts or causing cyber threats," said Herrero.
With the UAE having the world's third busiest air traffic, the authorities here need to keep a hawk eye over what is flying in the sky. Yet, the country needs to keep up its business-friendly environment, and the drone industry is bringing in plenty of revenue at an ever-increasing pace.