Dubai’s Civil Aviation Authority (DCAA) claims to be the global leader in unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) oversight, as its registry of commercial, government, and hobbyist drone users approaches the 5,000 mark, DCAA head of airspace safety Michael Rudolph said late last week at the Middle East Aviation Conference in Dubai.
“We have come a long way in a very short period of time,” Rudolph told attendees. “We came up with a protocol…to register every single drone operator in the Emirate of Dubai. To date, since roll-out in early 2017, we have now registered almost 5,000 [drone users]; we are looking at 4,760 operators.”
The DCAA’s remotely piloted aircraft system (RPAS) registration service costs $142 for commercial and government users, and $33 for professionals, hobbyists, and freelancers. “This service is mandatory (for) all companies and individuals who wish to conduct activities using RPAS,” DCAA said. Tourists attempting to bring drones into the country are requested to register at airports with customs.
“[The] remote pilot shall be responsible for avoiding collisions with people, objects and other aircraft and shall not harass or endanger people or threaten to damage property,” it said. “The RPAS or drone shall not be operated over congested areas, [and] shall not fly over public or private properties. Operators are responsible for all separations and/or safety protocol when… operating [the] RPAS.”
Dubai issued Law 7 on airspace safety and security in 2015, and Resolution No. 4, 2017, signed by Crown Prince Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, head of Dubai Executive Council. “As part of that, we have a rigorous a media campaign that has advised and told folk that if they acquire this technology, they need to register with the DCAA,” Rudolph said.
On international coordination, DCAA has met with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the FAA. “We have had meetings with homeland affairs, with the FAA, and in fact they were absolutely astounded at what we are doing, not because of what we have, but because of the fact that we were doing it on a mobile network,” he told AIN.
Tracking devices are mandatory on commercial and government drones, while individual owners’ UAVs are monitored using satellite-based mobile telemetry. The Emirate of Dubai’s boundaries constitute a limited geographical area of around 4,100 sq km (1,590 sq m), making oversight easier to manage than in the UK or U.S.
“I can say that we are a world leader as [far as] the oversight of this technology is concerned, recognized by the rest of the world,” Rudolph told AIN at the conference. “We've had interactions with the FAA, Eurocontrol, and even, most recently, Canada has looked to access the protocols we have put in place, [to prevent] airspace from being compromised. Without a doubt, Dubai is definitely a leader.”
Rudolph said a small proportion of drones were used purely for commercial operations, where users derived an income. “That could be anything from terrain surveys, property development, and videography. We have another element we call Dubai Government: that is, for example, the municipality [using] this technology to inspect and monitor installations, either desalination plants, power lines, or a solar power farm. The others are mostly hobbyists.
“The technology [allows the user to] take fantastic video within what we call the default. [This] means that when you fly a drone that you've just bought from one of the retailers, it will not be able to go above 400 feet, and outside 800 meters, the lateral distance from the operator, the internationally recognized defaults. So you'll always be able to see it. If you operate within those parameters, which I think is pretty reasonable, you shouldn't have any incidents.”
Rudolph said that the DCAA had moved into a second phase of oversight, in supporting entities studying operating beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS). “In the future, a drone will be programmed to do maybe vehicular traffic management without having an interface from a human being. In other words, it could be programmed to launch from a specific point, fly up and down an area and monitor traffic, and return to that point once the mission is complete.”
He said that four drone “sightings by the flight deck” in 2015 in the vicinity of Dubai International Airport had led the authorities to take immediate action on drone monitoring to maximize security around the world’s busiest international gateway, which handled 89.1 million passengers last year.
Urban Air Taxi Plans
Rudolph said the Dubai Road and Transport Authority’s target date for implementation of a regulated air taxi service remained 2022 but did not rule out the idea that market competition could lead to a surprise announcement at Dubai Expo 2020. He said Volocopter GmbH of Bruchsal had already received German Civil Aviation Authority certification for testing its autonomous air taxi, but that around five other potential competitors existed for the launch of such a service in Dubai.
He added that Boeing and Bell were studying the development of similar autonomous vehicles for Dubai, raising the possibility that a number of startups would be edged out of the market. “If I was in the running, if I had a vehicle that had a possibility of getting to market in the next one, three or five years, tell me the next best exhibition, fair, conference...that is going to be bigger than Expo 2020, to say I was at Expo 2020 in Dubai, and my vehicle flew.”