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Dubai has embarked on a new phase in the journey towards the smart city marked using artificial intelligence onboard drones. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Dubai is moving closer to deploying autonomous air transport with the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) recently holding the first legal forum to review the regulations governing operations for passenger transport via autonomous air vehicles.

“This preliminary step aims to chart out suitable structures and develop rules and regulations required for the operation of this ultra-advanced mode of future transportation. Such efforts form an integral part of plans and strategies aimed to broaden and enhance the transportation sector in Dubai and raise its global significance,” the RTA said in a statement on Wednesday.

Shehab Bu Shehab, director of Legal Department, Strategy and Corporate Governance Sector, at RTA said: “Legislations regulating the operation of such drones are critical to maintaining the development process and envisioning the future. Enacting such laws aims to build an integrated legislative structure capable of supporting Dubai’s sustainable development, technology advancement, and the use of artificial intelligence in the infrastructure. Dubai has embarked on a new phase in the journey towards the smart city marked using artificial intelligence onboard drones.”

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Shehab Bu Shehab, director of Legal Department, Strategy and Corporate Governance Sector, RTA. Image Credit: Supplied

Mandatory registration

According to RTA, the forum discussed three main topics related to the registration procedures, operation controls, and liability for damage caused by drones. Participants cited the American model and the French model. Both models provide for mandatory registration of autonomous aircraft prior to operation.

According to Article (15) of Law No. (4) of 2020, “No person may conduct operations or operation tests using an unmanned aircraft before registering it with the RTA. No person may use an unmanned aircraft, or conduct operation tests thereof, unless its registration number or code, or any other identification information prescribed by the RTA, is clearly displayed thereon”.

It added: “An owner must register the unmanned aircraft prior to conducting operations or operation tests, or deregister the same, in accordance with the conditions and procedures determined pursuant to the relevant resolution of the Director General of RTA in this regard.”

According to the law, the use of drones is prohibited in certain places such as airports, military zones and residential areas. Among the conditions attached to the use of such aircraft, a supervisor must be tasked to oversee matters related to privacy (photography), protection of personal data and the risks of flying over residential communities. The law made it mandatory to provide an electronic map that specifies the prohibited and permitted areas for flying over.

Operational obligations

The forum also discussed the operational obligations on the operator (pilot), controller and crew members of the autonomous aircraft.

The RTA noted: “The parties must, as the case may be, adhere to the safety and security requirements as well as the aircraft operating controls and systems among other aspects.”

Other topics discussed at the legal forum were adherence to safety rules, safety distance and property protection. When determining heights and the horizontal dimension, RTA shall give due consideration to specifying the safety distance sufficient to protect individuals, properties, civil and military aircraft, installations, buildings and other unmanned aircraft from a collision.

When carrying out operations or operational experiments, the operator, pilot or controller of the drone must not deviate from the airspace.

Suitable legislation

Bu Shehab said: “Enacting suitable legislation for drone’s operation focuses on several key aspects. The process is extremely important as drones constitute an extremely high-risk factor to the air traffic of conventional planes if left without legislation and legal controls.

“Consideration is also given to the flying environment of drones, licensing conditions, operation controls, and the associated responsibilities in this field.”