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The United Arab Emirates is a Middle Eastern country famed for shopping at the Dubai Mall, museums like the Ferrari World Abu Dhabi, the Dubai Miracle Garden, and so much more.
Whether you’ve been contracted to visit for work or traveling for pleasure, can you fly a drone in the UAE?
While the UAE General Civil Aviation Authority traditionally permits drones in UAE, as of January 2022, the Ministry of Interior has issued a temporary order restricting drones from operating. This order came about due to drone misuse, and it’s unclear when it will be lifted.
In this guide, we’ll take you through all the UAE’s drone laws so that if restrictions are lifted, you can fly safe.
Can you fly a drone in UAE? #
The UAE General Civil Aviation Authority is the leading aviation resource in the UAE. The GCAA, until early 2022, had permitted drones to operate in the UAE.
However, the GCAA and Ministry of Interior have reversed that decision.
Here is MOI’s statement in full:
“MOI is currently stopping all flying operations for owners, practitioners and enthusiasts of drones, including drones and light sports aircrafts. This encompasses also air and sail spots. This was put in place in coordination with the General Authority for Civil Aviation and in line with the relative guidelines. This decision came after the misuse spotted recently, not limiting the practice of these sports to the areas identified in the user permits and trespassing into areas where these types of activities are prohibited.
The MOI asked individuals and the community to respect the authorities directives namely issued by the MOI, and the General Authority for Civil Aviation, in order to ensure the safety of lives and property, preserving them from unsafe bad practices. Hence, air activities will be suspended as of Saturday, January 22, 2022.
Entities that have work contracts or commercial or advertising projects that rely on filming using drones must communicate with the permit authorities to take the necessary exceptions and permits to carry out their work and projects during this period to avoid any consequences that affect the timing of these projects.
MOI reminds users that anyone performing these activities during that period and disregarding guidelines will be subject to legal liabilities.”
The UAE traditionally issues a permit for special operations drone use or professional projects.
Special operations usage includes:
- Weather forecasting
- Wildlife protection
- Air shows
- Aerial work
You’d need to apply for Unmanned Aircraft Operator Authorisation, which can take up to three weeks to acquire.
You’d also have to obtain GCAA security clearance, complete a registration letter and mail it to email@example.com, and subscribe to e-publications through GCAA, including a receipt of having done so.
However, that’s all a moot point now, as drones haven’t been allowed to fly in this country for over a year (at least as of the time of this writing). It’s unclear when or if those restrictions will be lifted.
Understanding UAE drone maps #
When operating a drone in any new part of the world, we always strongly recommend using an interactive drone map.
Ideally, the map should be part of a drone app so you can carry it with you on the go, but the next best thing is a map website.
The GCAA has a website just like that; you can check it out here.
Again, this is a moot point considering you cannot use a drone in the UAE, but if you could or ever can again, you’ll want to have bookmarked that link.
The UAE has a drone color legend a little outside of what you’re used to if you’ve primarily used your drone in countries like the United States, the United Kingdom, or Canada.
Let’s go over the various colors and explain what they mean.
Red is a standard color in drone maps and usually denotes a no-fly zone. That’s the case in the UAE unless you have GCAA approval. Then you can fly in these red zones.
A more uncommon color in drone maps, beige is treated the same as red in the UAE. That is, the beige areas represent no-fly zones and still require approval from GCAA.
Some parts of the UAE’s drone map are pink.
These areas are especially important to pay close attention to, as they’re completely off-limits to drone pilots with no exceptions.
What happens if you fly your drone illegally in UAE? #
Remember that under the GCAA and MOI, any kind of drone usage in the UAE is illegal now.
If you had active permits when the new law first went into effect, you could have completed the permit terms, but even permits don’t last forever.
We never recommend pushing your luck when visiting another country. Between language barriers and different drone laws, you could end up in hot water quick.
That’s not to say that we recommend pushing your luck with your drone in your home country either. At least you understand the drone rules clearly in your home country!
Getting back to what would happen if you illegally used a drone in the UAE, you could have your drone confiscated. You will likely receive a fine and possibly jailtime.
UAE drone laws to learn #
For the rest of this article, we’ll review the UAE’s drone laws. We understand that these laws don’t apply at current due to the restrictions placed on drone use.
However, if MOI and GCAA ever decide to lift those restrictions, you still want a good understanding of the rules if you visit the UAE.
You must meet the age requirement to fly a heavier drone #
Does your drone weigh more than 25 kilograms or 55 pounds? The GCAA requires that only pilots over the age of 21 fly heavier drones in this country.
Gas engine drones must be in a fly club #
If your drone has a gas engine or weighs more than 5 kilograms or 11 pounds, you must join a flying club that meets GCAA approval and use the drone there.
You must report losses and accidents #
Before the blanket ban, the GCAA took drone usage in the UAE seriously. If you lose control of your drone or cause an accident, contact the GCAA to let them know.
You can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 9715066414667.
Report all incidents immediately after they happen.
Let the GCAA know when reselling your drone #
If you’re spending prolonged time in the UAE and plan on reselling your drone while you’re there, you must indicate as much to the GCAA first. You can do this by visiting the GCAA’s website.
Do not damage property or put people at risk #
When using a drone in the UAE, you must not put property or human lives at risk. You can’t even threaten to harm property with your UAV.
Further, you should not fly close to other unmanned aircraft or manned aircraft on your flight route.
You must maintain the proper frequency bands #
The entire time you use your drone in the UA, you must stay within the frequency band of 29.7 to 47.0 MHz at 10 mW. If you’re on a frequency of 100 mW, you can operate at 2400 to 2500 MHz.
You must stay within these frequencies to maintain a direct radio control link to your drone.
Do not fly within five kilometers of an airport or heliport #
You’re used to being unable to fly within five nautical miles of an airport, but that’s not the stance taken in the UAE. You cannot fly within five kilometers, which is only 3.10 miles.
That applies to all airfields, helicopter landing sites, heliports, airports, and outer fences around airports.
Do not use your drone over private and public property #
When planning a drone flight path, you cannot venture over public property. You’re also banned from using your drone over residents’ private property.
You must inspect your drone before flying #
GCAA rules require you to always use a drone according to the manufacturer’s specifications. Even so, you must always inspect your UAV before launching it whenever you fly it in the UAE.
You cannot fly at night #
Once the sun sets on another lovely day in the UAE, you’re prohibited from taking your drone out. You also cannot fly it before sunrise.
Only use your drone in clear weather #
Pilots can only operate drones on clear days. If you see rain, wind, or storms in the forecast, hold off on your planned drone flight, even if you have a permit.
You cannot fly higher than 400 feet #
UAE drone law prohibits pilots from flying over 400 feet from the ground. This is a pretty standard drone law and shouldn’t be misconstrued.
You cannot use your drone to drop items #
If you’re flying with cargo affixed to your drone, the cargo must remain attached the entire time you fly.
You’re prohibited from outfitting your drone with a drop-and-release device.
You can only use a camera in flying zones #
The UAE has specific flying zones for drones, the only areas where you can use a camera.
Confirm on your drone map that you’re in a flying zone before shooting photos.
You must register your drone #
The GCAA requires pilots operating a drone in the UAE to register themselves and their drones. You cannot fly without registration.
The United Arab Emirates banned drone flights in early 2022 due to people in the country misusing drones.
As of this writing, the policy hasn’t been lifted despite the MOH and GCAA labeling the ban as temporary.
While you can’t visit the UAE and fly a drone quite yet, maybe you someday will be able to again. Here’s hoping!