On Friday morning, a drone sighting forced authorities to ground flights to and from the Dubai International Airport. The halt remained in effect for half an hour.
Between 10:13 to 10:45 am local time, the third busiest airport in the world did not allow departure flights. The airport allowed airborne inbound flights to land but temporarily grounded flights that had not taken off yet that were set to land in Dubai until they had the all-clear.
United Arab Emirates law explicitly forbids drone activity within five kilometers of the airport’s premises. Drone users also need to obtain an official certificate from the General Civil Aviation Authority of UAE.
After the authorities had handled the situation, the airport Tweeted:
“Dubai Airports confirms that operations at Dubai International are back to normal after less than 30 minutes of delay due to unauthorized drone activity. Authorities warned that flying drones without obtaining permission is subject to legal liability as per UAE laws.”
The Dubai International Airport serves more than 89 million people annually. It also operates flights to 240 destinations on six continents, with around 200 airlines represented. The airport is the headquarters of Emirates Airlines.
Dubai Airport and Drones
The incident on Friday morning was not the first time drones have shut down the Dubai International Airport. In 2015, a drone sighting led to authorities closing the airport for 55 minutes. There were more similar incidents in 2016. One of these led to a 30-minute closure and the other to a 115-minute closure.
Time is the real issue when an airport is closed shut down, even temporarily. Michael Rudolph, Head of Airspace Safety at Dubai Civil Aviation Authority, estimates that the cost of closing the airport is $1 million per minute.
Authorities had already introduced legislation to tackle the issue that involves jail time plus a Dh100,000 fine and the UAE became a world leader in drone regulation. When a drone sighting closed off Gatwick Airport for more than a day and then Heathrow airport for an hour last year, London airport authorities contacted the Dubai General Civil Aviation Authority for advice.
Frequent drone-related airport closures have forced airport authorities to find new ways to prevent such incidents. Airport authorities in both Gatwick and Heathrow have invested in anti-drone technology.
Dubai’s airport already has Skytrax anti-drone technology. However, this technology requires trackers to be present on drones before it can protect against them. Rogue drones without trackers are likely the reason for Friday’s unexpected incident.