Dubai Now

Air authorities seek to curb Dubai's stray drones

Samuel Burke and Tom Page, CNNPublished 5th June 2018
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(CNN) — Eighty-seven million passengers passed through Dubai International in 2017, making it one of the busiest airports in the world. So when there's a hiccup in operations, the effect can be profound.
Shutdowns can cost the airport as much as $1 million a minute, and in recent times drones have been a big issue. Drone incursions into airport airspace were responsible for three shutdowns in 2016 -- one for as long as 90 minutes.
To counter the problem, the Dubai Civil Aviation Authority (DCAA) has implemented Skytrax, a system that monitors domestically registered drones to prevent shutdowns.
Skytrax works by fixing a tracker weighing 58 grams (2 ounces) to every drone licensed for use in the emirate. Developed in collaboration with drone company Exponent Technology Services, chief executive Asam Khan says no other city has gone to such lengths to monitor and manage drone activity.
Real-time tracking is monitored by the DCAA 24 hours a day, and if a drone strays close to a no-fly zone such as Dubai International, the system will send text alerts to DCAA officials and the drone operator, warning them to change course.
No drone is allowed within 16,400 feet horizontally or 3,000 feet vertically of commercial air traffic, says Khan.
The two-ounce tracking device fitted to licensed drones in Dubai by the DCAA.
The two-ounce tracking device fitted to licensed drones in Dubai by the DCAA.
Mike Rudolph, head of airspace safety at the DCAA, says it's "relatively rare" they'll have to call up a drone pilot over a potentially dangerous flight path. The system can't take down a drone from the air mid-flight, but Rudolph says due to Skytrax's ability to hold pilots to account, it's proving an effective deterrent when it comes to airport airspace incursions. "We've had no incidents from the time that we've implemented the system," he says.
Futureproofing drone regulations and managing the skies will only become more important as plans take shape for an air taxi service in Dubai in 2020.
"Drone operators such as ourselves, we have to realize use of the national air space (is) not a fundamental human right," says Khan. "You share it with other users, so you have to use it responsibly."