Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 4 July 2020

Emirates calls for tougher action on drones after airport closure

Thousands of passengers have faced delays and millions of dirhams have been lost this year after drones have caused the closure of Dubai International Airport on a number of occasions.
Dubai International Airport was closed for 80 minutes on Saturday because of ‘unauthorised drone activity’. Pawan Singh / The National
Dubai International Airport was closed for 80 minutes on Saturday because of ‘unauthorised drone activity’. Pawan Singh / The National

DUBAI // Drone detectors and heavy fines for people who fly the devices into flight paths are being called for by Emirates airline.

Thousands of passengers have faced delays and millions of dirhams were lost this year after drones caused the closure of Dubai International Airport on several occasions.

Emirates has called for authorities to take stronger action to discourage future incidents in and around Dubai airspace.

Network disruptions cost millions each time as airlines are forced to divert flights or hold aircraft until security checks have been completed.

Drones have forced the airspace around Dubai International to close on three separate occasions since June, with one half-hour closure in September causing delays to 85 departing Emirates flights.

“Flight diversions and extensive holding are costly. Financial aspects aside, there is huge inconvenience to passengers,” said Adel Al Redha, Emirates’ executive vice president and chief operations officer.

“It has a negative effect on Emirates’ reputation. Sending an aircraft to an alternative airport and managing delays to arrivals or departures is not as straightforward as it sounds.”

On Saturday, more than 5,000 passengers faced travel disruption when a drone closed Dubai International Airport for 80 minutes, resulting in the diversion of 22 inbound flights, including 11 operated by Emirates. The incident also affected flights at Sharjah International Airport.

The affected flights were diverted to other airports in the UAE, and these aircraft later returned to Dubai with delays ranging from two to four hours. The knock-on effect of the airspace closure affected two later Emirates flights, which also had to be diverted as the airport worked to restore normal schedules.

Other inbound flights were put on hold because of airspace congestion and outbound flights were delayed to accommodate connecting passengers after the airspace reopened.

In June, the airport was closed to aircraft for more than an hour, also because of a drone incursion, resulting in numerous flight delays and diversions, including 13 flight diversions for Emirates alone.

“Safety is always the number one priority in our business,” Mr Al Redha said. “Ensuring safe flight operations by closing the airspace when there is unauthorised drone activity, or other airspace incursions, is the right thing to do.

“However, the safety risk from unauthorised drone activity and the resulting disruption to customers and operations is unacceptable.”

Drone pilots operating without authorisation, a permit or in a restricted zone can face up to three years in prison or a Dh100,000 fine under civil aviation law in the UAE, though it is not known if this law has been enforced before.

There are four drone no-fly zones and nine areas requiring registration in Dubai, including the International Airport, Al Minhad Air Base, the Palm Jumeirah around Skydive Dubai and Al Maktoum Airport.

Flying unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) in nine other areas, including Downtown Dubai around the Burj Khalifa and the Skydive Dubai desert campus, will require permission.

Registration costs from Dh50 for hobbyists to Dh500 for commercial operators.

newsdesk@thenational.ae

Updated: November 1, 2016 04:00 AM

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