'Drone Hunter' will soon be a fixture at Dubai airports

Published: Wednesday, November 9, 2016

On October 29, the Dubai International Airport was forced to close between 7:25 pm and 8:45 pm amid an unexpected sighting of a drone, delaying more than 30 flights with thousands of passengers affected.

The incident also required the mobilization of teams from the Dubai Civil Aviation Authority (DCAA), the Dubai Police and other concerned authorities.

Dubai Police Commander-in-Chief Lt. Gen. Khamis Mattar Al Mazeina warned they will not hesitate to arrest anyone using drones without permission and asked the public to immediately call 999 or any nearby police station if they suspect someone is involved in such activity.

For safety reasons, any air space intended for commercial flying where a drone is seen will be closed until authorities have identified its operator and thoroughly investigated the matter.

Only the Dubai Police is authorized to get through the land area underneath the cordoned off air space says Salim Mohamed Bin Salim Al Suwaidi, aerodrome senior inspector at the Standards & Regulations Department of the Dubai Civil Aviation Authority.

“For example, a commercial pilot while flying,” says Al Suwaidi, “can report that a drone is flying next to him which is wrong. To ensure safety, we need to close the air space.”

Under the law, a civilian drone can only operate no higher than 400 feet or 120 meters up in the sky.

The October 29 incident was, thus far, the longest recorded closure of the Dubai International Airport, one of the busiest airports in the world.

Prior to which, it was closed for 70 minutes, 45 minutes or between 25 to 30 minutes, again due to a drone.

Al Suwaidi says the sudden closure of the Dubai airports whenever a drone, commonly referred to in Civil Aviation as Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS), is a major issue that the agency wants to address, thus, came up with the idea of introducing the “Drone Hunter” project.

The Drone Hunter, which was unveiled for the first time at GITEX Technology Week 2016, is equipped with cameras with special lens, infrared, thermal and night vision and can fly within a range of 100 kilometers.

“This drone is a project that is under further development and study,” says Al Suwaidi about the Drone Hunter which he described as designed to minimize the sudden closure of Dubai airports due to drone activities.

“It can fly within a range 100-km with special lens, infrared, thermal and night vision. It can track drone up in the sky, can identify, follow and locate the operator,” he told Air Cargo Update.

But due to the heavy weight of all equipment attached to the machine, the Drone Hunter can now only fly up to 90 minutes. Al Suwaidi says their goal is to keep it up in the air for at least three hours or more.

Licensed to fly

In Dubai, DCAA is the only agency authorized to license a drone operator. More than 300 mixture of professionals, hobbyists and government entities are currently licensed to operate drones in Dubai.

Al Suwaidi explained there are five categories licensed to fly a drone: hobbyists, professionals, commercial use, temporary commercial use and government entities.

Drone operators are required to undergo training at a special academy created by the Dubai Civil Aviation.

“Once the training course is finished or if the participants think that they are experienced enough to skip the training, they will undergo a series of tests. There is the process of a simulator test through a computer, a question and answer tests, then, we will take them out physically to examine their maneuvering skills,” explained Al Suwaidi.

Drone operators must renew their license every year to be able to operate their machines.

Al Suwaidi said the drones must also be routinely examined for safety reasons.

“We also have special tests for drones. We’re checking the batteries, motors of the fan, signal bandwidth, frequency, among others. Once it passes all tests, we’re going to add a unique serial number on it with the name of the owner and the date. It’s a yearly process,” said Al Suwaidi.

Once the drones are registered, DCAA can program their identities in a special portal where they can track down its activities, specifically time and location, for monitoring purposes.

“Once the drone is switched on, I will immediately get data feed on my computer and I can track what he is shooting. If we noticed that he (drone operator) did something wrong, we can deal with it with fines,” said Al Suwaidi.

If the violation endangered public safety, the drone operator can be brought to court for a case.

Drones are not toys

Last April, a drone crashed into an Airbus A320 approaching Heathrow Airport. The plane landed safely but the incident worried civil aviation experts across the globe enough to make them come up with possible solutions.

By May, the US and European air- safety regulators announced new policies geared to thwart more drone activities menacing commercial flights.

Both entities agreed to create bodies that will study the impact of drones on commercial air space specifically on potential drone collisions with planes, traditional fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters.

The study aims to measure the extent of actual damage from such accidents to the windshield, engines and structures of manned vehicles.

The US Federal Aviation Admin- istration has recorded more than 1,400 drones coming close to planes last year.

The European Aviation Safety Agency says the study is crucial to its planned formal recommendations to address the civilian use of drones.

Once limited to military use, the sale of drones is expected to shoot up to 7 million by 2020 with prices falling sharply.