On 29 September 2016, the GCAA issued the new Civil Aviation Regulation (CAR) Part IV – "Unmanned Aircraft System" (CAR UAS). CAR UAS entered into force and became applicable from 1 October 2016.
- Applies to commercial and non-commercial operations (which includes use by government entities and commercial entities for non-remuneration flights), other than for recreational uses
- Operators are required to hold an Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Operator Certificate (UOC)
- Operators are to maintain third party liability insurance with a combined single limit of at least AED2,000,000
- All UAS incidents and accidents must be reported by the operator via the GCAA's Reporting of Safety Incident (ROSI) platform
- Design of the UAS must be approved by the General Civil Aviation Authority of the United Arab Emirates (GCAA)
This new regulation represents the most significant step in the GCAA's regulatory strategy to integrate drone operations into UAE airspace. This follows the GCAA's issuance of CAR Part VIII Subpart 10 on the "Operation of Unmanned Aerial Systems within the UAE" in April 2015 which provided height and airspace type operational limitations based on the type of operation and the UAS weight. Most recently, on 18 May 2016 the GCAA issued CAR Part II Chapter 11 on "UAS for Experimental and Demonstration Purposes".
CAR UAS establishes a framework for the certification of commercial and non-commercial operators through the issuance of a UOC and the resultant responsibilities for holding and maintaining a UOC.
Scope of CAR UAS
UAS are defined in CAR UAS as "an aircraft and its associated elements which are operated with no pilot on board. An UAS may be remotely piloted (i.e. RPAS) or autonomously piloted (i.e. Autonomous UAS)".
CAR UAS applies to indoor and outdoor operations of UAS in the UAE's Flight Information Region (UAE FIR) for both commercial and non-commercial uses other than for recreational purposes. Given that the GCAA has the principal remit to regulate aviation safety in the UAE,1 this regulation operates primary, and not supplementary, to any UAS safety regulations introduced at an Emirate level.2
Commercial operations covered by CAR UAS will include any type of operation for remuneration or hire such as uses for the media, surveying, surveillance, inspection, air delivery, technical services and manufacturing. Non-commercial operations are defined to include operations by either (i) government entities or (ii) commercial entities conducting demonstration flights with the intent for sale or for its own benefit and not for remuneration or hire. Therefore, CAR UAS may apply to the UAE retailers such as toy stores, that fly miniature drones to attract customers.
UOC Application and Validity
Similar to the process required for a commercial aircraft operator to apply for an air operator certificate, a UOC applicant must initially provide a range of documentation and information to demonstrate that it is capable of adhering to the minimum safety and security standards set out in the CAR UAS and the CARs more generally. This includes the provisions of the following:
- A description of the proposed operation, including the types and number of UAS to be operated;
- A description of the management system and organizational structure;
- An Operations Manual;
- The name of the designated "Accountable Manager" including his/her qualifications;
- A security clearance certificate;
- An insurance certificate;
- Evidence of qualifications of all UAS Operating Crews;
- A declaration of compliance; and
- A no objection certificate for the relevant local authorities, for example, if operated in Dubai this may include holding the requisite Remotely Piloted Aircraft System Registration issued by the DCAA.3
The above provisions also apply to an operator seeking validation of a foreign UOC or equivalent. Once issued, the UOC shall remain valid for a period of 1 year.
UAS Operator Responsibilities
Section VI of CAR UAS prescribes a range of operator responsibilities which are mostly linked to the operator's adherence to the procedures established in its Operations Manual. Some noteworthy responsibilities include that the operator must ensure that:
- It has full oversight of all UAS operating crews who must be at least 21 years old, hold a security clearance and are qualified as required for the area and type of operations;
- All operating crew are free from fatigue, alcohol, narcotics and any other substance which may impair their capacity;
- There is no leasing of UAS allowed unless approved by the GCAA; and
- The design of the UAS operated must be approved by the GCAA.
In respect of the GCAA design standards, in the "Acceptable Means of Compliance" (AMC) provisions to Section VI, the UAS are to be equipped with (i) direct radio control link with specific frequency and power; (ii) a Geo-fencing feature using GPS technology; (iii) a Fail-Safe (Return Home/Hover) device; (iv) a sense and avoid function and a transponder in the event of special approval to operate in controlled airspace; and (v) such other features required for operation in the relevant airspace.
Section VI of CAR UAS stipulates the minimum limitation for conducting UAS operations. These limitation include that operations shall be limited to (i) day time; (ii) VMC conditions; (iii) visual line of sight operations; and (iv) maximum height of 400 ft; (v) maximum distance of 120m from operating crew or launch site; and (vi) maximum take-off mass of 5kg.
A "Special Approval" in accordance with Section IX of CAR UAS is required in the event the UOC holder intends to conduct UAS operations beyond these limitations, including for example if the operation is over a congested area or populous area; or the airspace of operation is restricted, controlled or segregated.
The Operations Manual is the guiding manual held by the UOC holder to ensure that it maintains the appropriate safety procedures and safety management systems appropriate to the type and complexity of the UAS operations involved.
The Operations Manual will prescribe amongst other things: (i) the key responsibilities of all management, personnel and UAS crew members; (ii) flight planning and approval, including weather minima, fly zones and take-off areas; (iii) procedures on the carriage of payload, emergency response and maintenance; (iv) flight time limitations, flight hours logbook and crew qualification records; and (v) training procedures.
Oversight by the GCAA
In order to maintain regulatory oversight of the UAS operator, the operator is required to grant the GCAA access at any time to its facilities, equipment, documents, records and data relevant to its UAS activities. In the event access is not granted, the UOC may be revoked or suspended.
Following an inspection by the GCAA of the UOC's holder's operations, the GCAA may issue a notification of its findings identifying any non-compliance and corrective actions which must be implemented by the operator.
UAS operators must report any accidents, serious incidents and occurrences via the GCAA's ROSI system. The reporting procedures and timing are stipulated in Civil Aviation Advisory Publication 22 – Incident Reporting (CAAP 22) which similarly applies to all UAE air operators, organisations certified by the GCAA and incidents involving UAE registered aircraft. It is noteworthy to mention that under CAAP 22 "bird strikes and wildlife incidents" are all reportable incidents.
CAR UAS requires UAS operators to maintain third party liability insurance for property damage and bodily injury and/or death with a combined single limit of at least AED2,000,000 (the UAS Insurance Requirements). The AMC also stipulates that the following matters are to be included on the certificate of insurance: (i) the policy number; (ii) name of the assured; (iii) details of the UAS; (iv) period of insurance; (v) interest to be insured; (vi) geographical area within the UAE; and (vii) and other conditions.
Prior to the introduction of the UAS Insurance Requirements, it was a point of debate whether or not paragraph 1.6.4 of the UAE’s Aeronautical Information Publication (AIP),4 which sets the minimum levels of third party liability insurance required to be held by aircraft operators flying into and within UAE FIR, applies to commercial UAS operations because of the exclusion that the AIP does not apply to "model aircraft with an MTOM of less than 20 kg”. This issue has likely arisen because at the time Regulation (EC) No 785/2004 was drafted the extraordinary advances in drone technology and application of drones for commercial uses was not contemplated. The UAS Insurance Requirements therefore avoids this lacuna and provides clarity to all UAS operators on their insurance obligations.
Unlike the AIP, the UAS Insurance Requirements do not vary based upon the maximum take-off weight (MTOW) of the UAS. In any event, the GCAA will likely require that a UAS operator increases its minimum insurance limits to an appropriate level in the event that the operator requires a Special Approval particularly for operations over congested or populous area involving larger drones, for example, a MOTW of 20kg or more.
The introduction of these insurance provisions follows the GCAA's consultation with UAE based aviation insurers, reinsurers and Clyde & Co's Dubai office.
No specified period of transition
The Notice of Proposed Amendment (NPA No. 09/2016) for CAR UAS issued in May 2016 indicated that there would be a transition period prior to the full implementation of CAR UAS. However, no transitional period has been included in the final version of CAR UAS which became applicable from 1 October 2016.