Shaikh Mansour Bin Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum looking at Dubai police surveillance drone at the Unmanned Aerial System Forum in Dubai. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Dubai: Authorities plan to crack down on the grey market for unregistered drones in Dubai, a senior official warned on Monday.

The crackdown will see officials go “store to store” targeting the sale of unregistered drones passed off as toys, said Michael Rudolph, head of airspace safety at Dubai Civil Aviation Authority (DCAA).

His comments came on the sidelines of the Unmanned Aerial System Forum in Dubai, which ends on Tuesday. The two-day event was inaugurated on Monday by Shaikh Mansour Bin Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum.

In Dubai, drones can only legally be bought from shops after they, and their buyers, are registered with DCAA. However, some shops sell drones, categorising them as toys, without registering them or checking customers’ permits.

Rudolph was responding to a question from Gulf News about such unregulated sale of drones in the market. “Unfortunately, we call that the informal market. We are working, along with Dubai Police and Dubai Customs, to close that part of the loop,” he said.

The DCAA is strict about identifying, registering and tracking drones and their operators to prevent and minimise security and safety threats. Failure to obtain permits can invite hefty fines while more serious offences, such as endangering public safety, can lead to prosecution. Between 2015 and 2016, Dubai’s airspace was forced to close and passenger flights diverted multiple times because of unauthorised drone activity near the airport.

On Monday, Rudolph said unregulated drone sales — which could mean untracked drone flights — will soon be a thing of the past.

“Remember that the normal retail outlets are managed and regulated very strictly and we have access to that information; we have letters of agreements with them. However, in the informal market, they import a container [for example] and the description on the label is ‘toys’.

“Now, because the customs operator is only told to recognise and hold anything to do with aviation, drones, UAVs — and because that description is not there, it’s ‘toys’ — unless he opens the container and physically inspects the contents, he will not know it’s not a toy.”

Rudolph said the majority of very small remote-controlled flying devices are identifiable as toys, but the main concern for authorities are larger UAVs with superior capabilities that are sold unregistered to hobbyists or commercial operators.

“The stuff that is bigger is what we are working on, and again it’s all about resources. The critical thing for me right now is to make sure that I have a protocol and a process in place whereby we can work with the key stakeholders — Dubai Police and others — to try and close that net,” he added.

“And then, once that is closed, we move to the informal market, and we literally have to go from store to store, and put the fear of God into them and say, ‘guys, what you’re doing is not right’.”

Register your drone

After buying a drone, purchasers will receive a leaflet on how to register, or they can visit www.dcaa.gov.ae and click on drone registration to apply

After registering, owners must take an approved operator course

Submit training certificate showing course completion

Submit the coded number for the drone for identification by DCAA

Once approved, operator card will be issued

Dh100 is the fee to register a drone for personal, non-commercial purposes, and the same amount for annual renewal

Source: DCAA

Be warned: The fine for not heeding warning to avoid unauthorised areas is Dh2,000 to Dh20,000, depending on the nature of violation. More serious safety or security violations can lead to prosecution