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Rogue drone shutters Dubai’s airspace again

* Dubai and Sharjah airports closed on Saturday for more than an hour due to illegal drone activity

* UAV activities are not permitted within 5km of any airport or landing area

* Abu Dhabi has banned the sale of recreational drones since March last year until new laws are issued


Hardly a month after unauthorised drone activity brought Dubai’s airspace to a standstill, a similar has once again irked the city’s busy international airport for nearly one and a half hours on Saturday evening.

“Airspace around DXB was closed from 1925hrs to 2049hrs on Saturday due to unauthorised drone activity resulting in flight diversions,” operator Dubai Airport said.

Neighbouring Sharjah’s International Airport was also closed during the same hours after illegal drones intruded into the UAE’s airspace.

The closure of the airports resulted in the interruption of services and a number of flights were affected.

The latest incident follows a rogue drone incident that shuttered Dubai International Airport on September 28. The airport closed its airspace completely for nearly half-an-hour at the time.

Authorities warned all UAV operators that activities are not permitted within 5km of any airport or landing area.

The UAE’s aviation watchdog had announced last month 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.

The airport was earlier closed for more than an hour on June 12 due to unauthorised drone activity in the surrounding airspace, which resulted in millions of dollars of losses for the economy.

Dubai-based newspaper Khaleej Times had quoted Michael Rudolph, head of aviation regulation and safety at the Dubai Civil Aviation Authority (DCAA), in a report on June 12 as saying: “$1 million per minute – that’s what it cost the economy of Dubai”, while referring to a drone incursion into the airport in January last year, which shut down operations for 55 minutes.

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 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.

As a regional aviation hub with two of the busiest airports in the world, the UAE’s airspace is congested. And with drones becoming increasingly relevant, there are safety and security risks, Gulf area manager at IATA, the global body of airlines, Michael Herrero, said.

“The big question is how to integrate drones into commercial airspace in future, governments need to put it high on the agenda with enforceable legislation,” he said.