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UAE: Possible New Regulations for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

(Oct. 19, 2016) The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is reportedly working on enacting new laws to more tightly regulate the use of unmanned aerial vehicles.  Mohammed Faisal al-Dossari of the UAE General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) has been quoted as saying “[t]he Emirates Authority for Standardisation & Metrology (Esma) is working on laws that will have a framework for the UAE for imports, sales, and performance of drones.”  (Stanley Carvalho, UAE to Introduce New Laws Soon to Regulate Drones, REUTERS (Sept. 26, 2016).)  The new laws “will also address air-worthiness for heavier drones, standards for pilotless aircraft and pilot training among other issues,” according to Dossari.  (Id.)

Existing law defines aircraft as “any machine that can derive support in the atmosphere from the reactions of the air other than the reactions of the air against the earth’s surface. This comprises fixed-wing and variable-wing aircraft as well as balloons and the like, when used for civil purposes.” (Federal Act No. 20 (1991) Promulgating the Civil Aviation Law, art. 1.7 (1991 Law).)  As this definition is broad enough to cover unmanned aircraft, these are therefore covered by various provisions related to civil aviation.

The Ministry of Communications has the authority to “supervise all matters related to civil aviation and its development in the State.”  (Id. art. 4.)  This and other provisions, such as article 20 of the 1991 Law, related to establishing rules of the air, allow the government to regulate the use and operation of drones through executive orders, without the need to enact new laws.

Recreational use of drones is allowed on the conditions that the user is registered with the General Civil Aviation Administration (GCAA), the drone is not equipped with drop or release devices, the flying range is not more than 400 feet above ground, and other requirements specifically indicated in the initial issue of the regulation titled Operation of Unmanned Aerial Systems Within the United Arab Emirates.  (For the regulation and related information, see An Unmanned Aerial System, GCAA (last visited Oct. 19, 2016); see also Registration, GCAA (last visited Oct. 17, 2016).)  However, one of the emirates, Abu Dhabi, “has banned the sale of recreational drones since March last year.” (Carvalho, supra.)

Commercial or other non-recreational uses are also permitted, provided operators meet additional requirements, including passing an exam and obtaining operational approval before each flight. (Registration, supra.)  Currently, “[a]t least 400 drones, mostly commercial, are registered with the GCAA.” (Carvalho, supra.)