Dubai will soon become the first place in the world to implement real-time tracking software to monitor the operations of commercial drones in restricted airspace, according to officials from the Dubai Civil Aviation Authority (DCAA).
The Exponent Portal software – which was publicly unveiled for the first time at a live demonstration at the World Aviation Safety Summit in Dubai on Monday – will allow DCAA officials and other local authorities to track the location, speed and height of drones, as well as view and record the material being collected by the drone’s on-board camera.
The system works through a 160-gramme add-on that is to be fitted onto drones before flight.
“Beyond the issuance of a no-objection certificate, we are able to monitor what the RPAS (remotely piloted aircraft system) operator is doing,” explained Michael Rudolph, DCAA’s Head of Aviation Regulations and Safety. “Should there be any transgressions, we are advised of that.”
Using the Exponent Portal, both the DCAA and the drone operator are immediately notified – including via near-instant SMS messages – when the drone strays outside of a pre-determined “geo-fenced” area in which the vehicle is permitted to fly.
“At that time, we are able to give the operator a phone call,” Rudolph said. “If we weren’t able to monitor this live, we would be able to recall the information at a later day, either to call the operator in and rap him on the knuckles or otherwise show him where the transgression has taken place … and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Additionally, the software’s ability to monitor the drone’s video feed will allow authorities – such as the Ministry of Defence – to ensure that video is not taken of sensitive areas.
“(They) will be able to determine immediately whether there is something that needs to be censored before it can be sent to production, whether they need to call that entity in and censor the smart card from the camera, or whether it is acceptable,” Rudolph noted.
Khalid Al Arif, Director of DCAA’s Standards and Regulations Department, noted that the DCAA “is in the process’ of signing a memorandums of understanding with various government entities – including the Dubai Police – to work together to regulate drones.
Rudolph noted that the DCAA has a registration system that provides registration card for various kinds of drone operators, including hobbyists, professionals (such as drone racers), commercial operators who derive an income from drone operations, and government drone operators.
The DCAA has also been handing out pamphlets and materials to drone operators and students that explain the registration and permission process, no-fly zones, as well as provide guidelines for safe and lawful flights.
DCAA’s moves come at a time that aviation professionals are growing increasingly concerned about near misses between drones and aircraft. In March, for example, the US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) announced that it had detected 600 near misses over a five-month time period.
“It (drones) is an entity that is both good and bad. The good being that it provides for fantastic videography that you see on a daily basis on YouTube,” Rudolph said. “The bad thing is the negative connotations attached to the impact that it has to commercial operations.
“We are trying to find synergy between operators, but we also need to understand that we need to keep the airspace of Dubai safe,” he added.