Dubai: New rules by civil aviation authorities can only do so much to prevent amateur hobbyist drone operators from unwittingly flying their toys into highly secure airspace, says a UK aviation expert.

Following a third drone intrusion in nearly two years that briefly shuttered the Dubai International Airport on Wednesday, Ben Kiff, director Middle East of NATS (National Air Traffic Control Services), says a suite of measures are needed to keep wandering drones at bay.

“The approach [to prevention] taken varies from country to country. The US has gone down the route of drone registration. However, this doesn’t necessarily help prevent incidents. Some manufacturers are also developing technology called Geo fencing (a GPS-based virtual barrier), which is aimed to prohibit drones from entering complex, busy airspace such as that around airfields,” Kiff told Gulf News.

“Consistent with the UAE, UK airports and ANSPs (air navigation service providers) are generally taking the ‘education first’ approach. Civilians flying drones tend not to be familiar with aviation rules and regulations — they are essentially hobbyists — and so they need to first be given an understanding as to what the responsibilities and implications of using drones are, in order to use them safely.”

On Monday, UAE General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) said that a new UAE law to restrict import and sale of drones will soon be implemented in the UAE due to the growing use of drones in the country.

Mohammad Al Dossary, director of air navigation and aerodromes department, said the authority is working with the Emirates Authority for Standardisation and Metrology (Esma) on the new law.

“We are working with the Emirates Authority for Standardisation and Metrology on a law that will have a framework for the UAE on the sale and import of drones. Once the law is implemented, you will have restrictions on the sale and import of drones and only certain sizes of drones will be there in the market,” Al Dossary told reporters at the Drones Middle East conference in Abu Dhabi.

Kiff, meanwhile, said regulations are critical but noted that enforcement can be a real challenge.

“Regulations have a role to play but the key question when it comes to regulation is, ‘are they enforceable’? The combination of education, regulation, technology and awareness-raising are fundamental to improving the safety of drone flying, and will help to deliver the complete solution that will positively contribute to the continuation of safe operations,” he said.

“There are many ways to go about doing this — whether it’s engaging with drone communities to educate them on the safe use of drones, approaching retailers to ensure they do their part in educating potential drone owners or making it easier for new drone users to access and understand the necessary information. There is an awareness gap, and it is up to all aviation stakeholders to make sure we utilise our skills and expertise to educate the public on drones, to ensure the airspace remains safe for everyone.”

UAE officials said there are now 400 registered users of drones in the country.

In Dubai, seasoned drone users now operate legally in an approved airspace in Al Ruwaiya without running any risk to aviation.

A Dubai drone club operates with many members who know the rules and do not jeopardise their personal safety or that of others by flying only in the designated airspace for drones.

GCAA drone rules

The user and drone shall be registered with the GCAA before flying

All drones weighing 5kg or less shall only be allowed to fly in approved flying zones

No video or image capturing devices shall be used when flying the drone

No drone shall be equipped with drop or release devices

Drone flying range shall be within the line of sight and not more than 400 feet above ground level

Drones shall fly only during daytime and in good weather conditions

Drones shall be used for fun and not for commercial purposes

No user shall fly the drone within 5km of UAE airports’ outer fence, heliports, helicopter landing sites, and airfields or in controlled zones

Direct radio control link shall be maintained between the user and the drone

The minimum age to fly drones weighing more than 25kg is 21

Source: GCAA