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Dubai: Saturday’s unauthorised drone activity that led to the closure of Dubai International Airport (DXB) caused the diversion of 40 inbound flights, almost twice the number previously reported.

The DXB was forced to close from 7.25pm to 8.45pm on Saturday following a drone in the surrounding area of Al Warqa’a, leading to some flights being diverted to Al Maktoum International Airport (DWC) in Dubai and Al Ain International Airport.

No drones are allowed within five kilometres from the outer fence of any airport in the UAE, warns the General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAG) on its website (www.gcaa.gov.ae).

However, the latest shutdown was the third such incident this year. It also prompted the relatively near Sharjah International Airport to close its surrounding airspace.

An Emirates spokesperson said eight of its flights were diverted to DWC and three to Al Ain. All diverted Emirates flights returned to DXB after the airspace reopened. “Emirates is assisting affected passengers with alternative rebooking options. Emirates regrets the inconvenience caused but the safety of our passengers and crew is of utmost importance and will not be compromised,” the spokesperson added.

Shaikh Khalid Bin Essam Al Qasimi, chairman of the department of civil aviation at Sharjah International Airport (SHJ), told Gulf News that SHJ shuttered its airspace after the unauthorised drone was detected around the airspace of DXB.

As the two airports, he said, work in one airspace, the drone detected in Dubai affected the air traffic in Sharjah. A number of flights were delayed but no flight was diverted from Sharjah, he added.

“In Sharjah, we do not have such incidents as the operation of drones is regulated by authorities and Sharjah Police. The Sharjah government has its regulations regarding the use of drones and we cooperate with the police regarding this issue,” Shaikh Khalid said. UAE authorities have repeatedly warned against the unauthorised use of drones, whose import and sale will be regulated by a new law that is expected to come into force soon.

On Sunday, Dubai Police issued a fresh warning, saying those caught operating an unauthorised drone or misusing it in a way that causes damage will be arrested and face legal action.

In Dubai, there are four no-fly zones for drones (including the airport) as well as nine zones requiring prior official permission (such as Downtown Dubai).

Drones can be easily purchased in several Dubai shops and online, for a few hundred dirhams or a few thousand dirhams, depending on their specifications.

An Indian drone enthusiast in his early 30s, who did not want to be named, said he flew a drone in Meydan and near Al Qudra lake last winter.

“I like to go to open spaces in the winter and fly drones with friends. At the time, I didn’t know about the rules surrounding drones. We just assumed there weren’t any. Just out of curiosity, I went online and read there are rules, such as the need for registering with authorities and only flying in authorised zones,” said the enthusiast.

“You can buy a drone from shops in Dragon Mart or in Al Garhoud. You pay and you leave, no questions asked. I think the public awareness is not high enough, but [Saturday’s] kind of incidents will make people learn more about it.”

Police warn against unauthorised drone flights 

Those found operating an unauthorised drone or misusing it in a way that causes damage will be arrested and face legal action, Dubai Police Chief warned on Sunday.

In light of the recent incident, Lt Gen Khamis Mattar Al Mazeina, Dubai Police Chief, has warned owners of unauthorised drones and urged them to obtain an official permit.

“We will not hesitate to arrest every person found to be using a drone which has not been authorised by the official authorities. Anyone found to be misusing those drones and causing problems and damage will also be arrested,” he said.

He said the Dubai Civil Aviation Authority is the entity entitled to issue legislations pertaining to the safety and security of aviation in Dubai.

Article No 12 of Law No 7 of 2015 concerning airspace safety and security in the emirate, issued in 2015 by His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, stipulates that any person who endangers the safety of airspace in the emirate in any way can face imprisonment and/or a fine.

Law No 07 of 2015 on aviation safety in Dubai was issued to regulate, among other hazards, drone flights and keep Dubai’s airspace safe following a spate of airport disruptions due to misused drones.

Lt Gen Al Mazeina said the law lists executive legislations concerning this activity.

“Any person or institution who owns a drone must register it and obtain a licence to operate it. In any case where they are found flouting the rules, they will face legal action.”

Lt Gen Al Mazeina also asked the Criminal Investigations Department to follow up on the unauthorised use of drones in places that could pose a threat or risk to airspace and also in public places where they can cause disturbance.

“I call on all citizens and residents not to hesitate to call the Command and Control Centre at 999 and report any case to the closest police patrol.”

He also urged parents and guardians not to play with drones in restricted areas and to work with police in spreading safety awareness.