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Emirates urge strong measures to stop drone intrusion into UAE’s airspace

Following the latest rogue drone incursion in UAE’s airspace on October 29, which led to the closure of  airports in Dubai and Sharjah for nearly one and a half hours, Emirates Airline has called on the authorities to take stricter measures to stop the menace that affect several flights and passengers.

The airline on Monday urged to impose penalties to discourage future occurrences of unauthorised drone activity in the country and asked to install drone detectors at the Dubai airport.

“Flight diversions and extensive holding are costly. Financial aspects aside, there is huge inconvenience to passengers, and also a negative impact on Emirates’ reputation. Sending an aircraft to an alternative airport and managing delays to arrivals or departures is not as straightforward as it sounds,” said Adel Al Redha, Executive Vice President and Chief Operations Officer of Emirates.

Dubai-based airline said the closure of the airports resulted in the diversion of 22 inbound flights, including 11 operated by Emirates Airline, and more than 5,000 Emirates passengers alone were affected.

“There is always a ripple effect on the rest of our hub operations in terms of securing our passengers’ flight connections, ensuring our disrupted customers are cared for, planning the return of aircraft to support other scheduled flights, and a myriad other arrangements to manage the disruption from crew to catering to ground handling,” Al Redha said.

The latest incident follows an unauthorised drone incident that shuttered Dubai’s airspace on September 28 for more than half an hour. According to the airline, the closure at the time resulted in delays to 85 Emirates flight departures, chalking up a cumulative delay of over 57 hours or an average delay of 40 minutes per flight, affecting thousands of passengers travelling during the morning peak period.

A similar incident had happened on June 12 bringing Dubai’s airspace to a standstill for more than an hour and 13 flight diversions for Emirates alone.

“Safety is always the number one priority in our business. Ensuring safe flight operations by closing the airspace when there is unauthorised drone activity, or other airspace incursions, is the right thing to do. However, the safety risk from unauthorised drone activity, and the resulting disruption to customers and operations is unacceptable,” Al Redha added.

UAE’s authorities have warned all UAV operators that activities are not permitted within 5km of any airport or landing area.

The aviation watchdog had announced in September that it will finalise laws to more heavily regulate the sale of drones and their operations soon, aiming to minimise risks posed by unmanned aerial vehicles.

“Several incidents have happened and to integrate them (drones) safely into the commercial airspace is a challenge,” Mohammed Faisal al-Dossari, director, air navigation and aerodromes department, UAE General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA), said on September 26.

Current regulations on drones in the UAE, introduced in April 2015, relate mainly to commercial licensing and approving how companies use drones. These regulations are under constant development, al-Dossari had told reporters at a regional conference on drones in the UAE capital.

“The Emirates Authority for Standardisation & Metrology (ESMA) is working on laws that will have a framework for the UAE for imports, sales and performance of drones,” he said.

Abu Dhabi has banned the sale of recreational drones since March last year until new laws are issued, saying they posed a risk to aviation.

The new laws will also address air-worthiness for heavier drones, standards for pilotless aircraft and pilot training, among other issues, al-Dossari said.

At least 400 drones, mostly commercial, are registered with the GCAA. They are used for commercial operations such as mapping, security surveillance and wildlife surveys, as well as for environment, transport, agricultural and maritime purposes, among others, in the UAE.

(With inputs from Reuters)