Dubai: Dubai authorities are grappling with new ways of keeping the emirate’s skies safe after drones halted air traffic at one of the world’s busiest airports three times last year.
The delays were necessary to protect passengers, officials said, but they hit thousands of travellers and cost airlines millions of dollars.
Drones pose a “threat to the flying public” and “to an aircraft in operation,” said Ismaeil al-Blooshi, deputy head of the air safety department of the United Arab Emirates’ civil aviation authority.
He compared drones to the threat posed by birds, but said they were less predictable and harder to avoid.
“We have means and data to predict when and where is the bird migration… but with drones, you have this object in the air and you don’t know the intentions” of the operator, he said.
The cost of closing airspace for one hour runs into millions and creates a long backlog, but there is no room to compromise on safety, Blooshi said.
“The economic impact is not even on the table” when considering the risks, he said. “The number one priority is avoiding harm to passengers.” Drones have become a more common sight in the skies above the emirate as related technology has plunged in price, with professional photographers eager to use them.
“The drone has helped us all. Before we needed a plane and a big budget to do aerial shooting. It’s much easier and cheaper now,” said videographer Murad al-Masri, as he shot footage of a desert festival.
After last year’s incidents, operator Dubai Airports stressed that flying drones within five kilometres (three miles) of airports was illegal.
New regulations introduced last year stipulate up to three years in jail or a fine of 100,000 dirhams (USD 27,000, 25,000 euros) for flying a drone over a prohibited zone. (AFP)
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