The use of drones in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is subject to strict laws and regulations. The UAE government wants to ensure that the increased use of drones in the UAE does not negatively impact on airspace safety or security, cyber security or privacy. This article examines the laws and regulations that govern the use of drones in the UAE.

Initial Foundations

At a federal level, the foundations of the present legal framework were laid by the passing of "Federal Resolution No. 2 of 2015 – Regarding Light Air Sports Practice Regulations" which set out requirements relating to the use of drones.

GCAA Regulations

The UAE General Civil Aviation Authority (the GCAA) is the body tasked with regulating the use of drones in the UAE and it has published certain rules and guidelines which build on the foundations laid by the federal resolution referred to above. These rules and guidelines are contained in the GCAA Civil Aviation Regulations (the Regulations). The Regulations include a definition of an unmanned aerial system (a UAS) which is "an aircraft and its associated elements which are operated with no pilot on board." Drones fall within this definition. The Regulations separate UAS into six categories based on physical and operational parameters.

Category Weight User Sub Class
1 > 5 kg A Private
B Commercial
2 5 kg – 25 kg A Private
B Commercial
3 < 25 kg A Private
B Commercial

The Regulations classify private users as those who use a UAS for private leisure and sport purposes, while commercial users are those who use drones for commercial purposes such as media, surveying, surveillance, inspection, air delivery, technical services or manufacturing (Commercial Purposes). The Regulations set out specifically tailored minimum operational requirements and restrictions that are different for each category. For instance category 1A, 2A and 3A drones are prohibited from using video or image capturing devices, while category 1B, 2B and 3B drones may be equipped with a camera or any such similar device but only with the prior approval of the GCAA. Any person or entity who intends on using a drone in the UAE should consult with the Regulations before doing so.

Registration of drones and drone users

Drones being imported into the UAE need to be registered using the UAE national registration system - "My Drone". All drones that weigh in excess of 250 grams need to be registered. The registration platform is hosted on the Emirates Standards and Metrology Authority (ESMA) website. Submitting details via this platform will simultaneously register details of the drone in question with four government entities, including the GCAA. The My Drone registration system will ensure that each drone being imported into, and being sold in, the UAE carries a unique serial number and a geo fencing microchip which will allow for the drone to be tracked by UAE authorities. Once registered, a drone will be issued with an ESMA certificate. Anybody who wishes to sell a drone in the UAE will need to have this ESMA certificate and will need to apply through My Drone to transfer ownership of the drone in question.

The Regulations clarify that any individual or entity who wants to operate a drone within the UAE for Commercial Purposes or non-commercial purposes, other than for recreational purposes, must obtain a UAS Operator Certificate (UOC). 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 Regulations. Once issued, a UOC shall remain valid for a period of 1 year.

The GCAA advise that failure to comply with these registration requirements could lead to penalties and / or criminal prosecution.

No Fly Zones

Pursuant to the Regulations, the use of drones in certain areas is restricted. The GCAA has created an app called "UAE Drone Fly Zone Map" which allows drone users to ascertain what areas in the UAE drones may operate.

Emirate Specific Laws

In addition to the federal laws and the Regulations referred to above, the Emirate of Dubai has enacted separate Dubai Emirate level laws - "Executive Council Resolution No. 4 of 2017 – Fees and Fines of the Dubai Aviation Authority". These resolutions clarify that no person or entity may conduct any aviation‐related activity in Dubai without first obtaining the relevant permit from the Dubai Civil Aviation Authority (DCAA). Private and commercial drone users living in Dubai must obtain a licence from the DCAA, which remains valid for a period of 1 year (it is not clear whether this requirement is separate to the requirement to obtain a UOC); while any visitors coming to Dubai must obtain a no objection certificate from the DCAA in advance of their visit in order to legally operate a drone in the country. The Regulations also promulgate that using non registered drones for commercial activity can attract fines of between AED2,000 to AED 20,000 and / or imprisonment, while using non-registered drones for private activity can attract fines of between AED1,000 to AED20,000 and / or imprisonment. The resolutions do not indicate what length of imprisonment may be applied.

Insurance

In October 2017, the UAE announced mandatory minimum insurance requirements for commercially operated drones. These requirements impose minimum liability coverage of AED3.67 million. It has also been announced that mandatory insurance will be required for privately operated drones in 2018.

Conclusion

It remains to be seen what the impact of the implementation of these laws and requirements will have on the level of drone usage in the UAE. The UAE government has recognised that as drone technology advances, the existing laws and regulations in place will have to adapt along with technology. It is certain therefore that this rapidly developing area of law within the UAE will be subject to further changes in the future.