In yet another local drone mishap, an errant unmanned vehicle forced the closure of the Dubai International Airport for nearly half an hour on Wednesday morning, according to airport officials.
In a statement, a Dubai Airports spokesperson noted that "airspace around Dubai International was closed from 0808 hours to 0835 hours this morning due to unauthorised drone activity resulting in a number of delays at the airport".
The spokesperson said the arrival operations resumed at 8.35am and departures at 8.40am with some restrictions. Full operations resumed at 9.07am.
"Safety is our top priority," the spokesperson added. "Dubai Airports reminds all UAV operators that any and all activities are not permitted unless authorised by regulatory authorities and are strictly prohibited in restricted areas, including within five kilometres of any airport or landing area."
The incident is the latest in a string of airport closures caused by drones in the UAE.
In June, for example, air traffic at Dubai International was brought to a standstill for just over an hour following the presence of an unauthorised drone, with a number of aircraft diverted to Dubai World Central Airport.
Speaking to Khaleej Times, Saj Ahmad, chief analyst at StrategicAero Research, said that a drone potentially striking an aircraft could be very dangerous.
"Depending on the size of the drone, some of which can be as large as a light single-seat helicopter, the risk is that a jet could well be brought down," he noted. "While engines are robustly tested for many types of ingestion, particularly birds, this new phenomenon with drones means that any collision could cause severe damage depending on the stage of flight - whether at taxi on the ground, take-off or landing.
"Any structural impact on any sized airplane would force an emergency. This may well lead to an airport or airspace closure or restriction."
Cost of mishaps
Aside from posing a potential threat to the safety of aircraft and passengers, officials have noted that such incidents can be extremely costly.
"Sudden airport closures like what we've seen at Dubai International can run into millions of dirhams very easily," Ahmad noted. "With the knock-on effect of flights diverting, mis-stationing crew, baggage and passengers, and the cost of then either transporting them back to their origin or putting them up in hotels, costs rapidly escalate.
"The airport too has to factor in the loss of revenue that cannot land. Even a simple drone incursion can have damaging effects."
Speaking at the World Aviation Safety Summit held in Dubai earlier this year, Michael Rudolph, head of Aviation Regulation and Safety at the Dubai Civil Aviation Authority (DCAA), said "$1 million per minute - that's what it cost the economy of Dubai."
Earlier this week, the UAE's General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) noted that it is working with companies selling drones in the country to inform customers of regulations around owning drones and regulate their operations.
Current UAE drone regulations - which were introduced in April 2015 - primarily relate to commercial licensing and use of drones, but are being constantly developed further, according to GCAA officials.
"The GCAA is required to authorise the operation of civil unmanned aerial vehicles within civil airspace over the territory of the UAE," GCAA Air Navigation Inspector Waleed Al Riyami told Khaleej Times. "The majority of applications we receive - 90 per cent - are for small drones weighing 5kg or less."
Additionally, the GCAA noted that it is currently working to improve its e-service applications by including the required approvals from other government entities such as the Ministry of Defence, Department of Transport and local municipalities to ease the process for applicants.
It currently takes between one and two weeks for applications to be received and for approval - or denial - to be given.
Approximately 400 drones are currently registered with the GCAA for a variety of purposes, including for universities conducting research programmes, mapping and monitoring, farming or environmental research.
Recreational unmanned vehicles continue to be readily available in Dubai and other parts of the UAE, ranging from small-short range miniature variants that cost several hundred dirhams, to larger more sophisticated models that can remain airborne longer and take professional-quality video.
Tips for smart drone flights
DON'T FLY NEAR AIRPORTS: Drones can interfere with commercial aircraft, and can cause severe safety issues in some cases. General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) and Dubai Civil Aviation Authority (DCAA) regulations prohibit the flying of drones near, around or over airports.
OBTAIN PROPER PERMITS: According to GCAA regulations, all drones must be registered with the authority. If you are flying a drone in Dubai for commercial reasons, then you will need to obtain a no-objection certificate (NOC) from the DCAA. This can only be obtained after you are registered with and approved by a related authority, usually the Dubai Film and TV Commission (DFTC).
DON'T FLY OVER RESIDENTIAL AREAS: For reasons of privacy, the federal and municipal authorities forbid the flying of drones over residential areas.
OBTAIN PERMISSION FOR PHOTOGRAPHS: Privacy comes into play here too, as do restrictions on snapping some government buildings. Check with the GCAA or DCAA for more details.
DO ENSURE IT IS IN SIGHT: Drones must always be kept within visual sight of the operator, only fly during daylight and at no higher than 400ft (122m) above ground level.
INFORM IN CASE OF AN ACCIDENT: If there is an accident, the operator must inform the GCAA.
ENSURE UPMOST SAFETY WHEN FLYING: For the protection of people, the drone cannot fly within 200 metres of a person or building and cannot be flown overhead of groups of people at any height.
FLY WITHIN AN AVIATION CLUB: Drones weighing more than 5kg should be flown within the perimeters of licensed aviation clubs.
SEEK ADVICE FROM THE GOVERNMENT: To ensure you do not commit any offences as an active drone operator, your best bet is to consult with the DCAA or GCAA first.
By Bernd Debusmann Jr.
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