Monday 11 November 2019

Droning On: UAE Drone Law and the Pleasures of Flight

Jebel Mleiha

Squelching through a muddy field packed with incurious sheep to once again recover the stupid toy drone I was trying to fly, I finally resolved to go for this all or nothing. It was almost impossible to control the daft wee thing and even the vaguest puff of wind would send it away beyond the trees before I could land it. Fed up with wandering around the countryside trying to find my little plastic Chinese gadget time after time, and with a vague notion of imaging the archaeological sites of the UAE from the air, I decided to buy a DJI Mavic - a serious drone.

Now this was no small decision. We are talking about a very expensive piece of kit indeed, here. But the more I read about it, the more I resolved to take the plunge. One short Christmas later, I had me a Mavic Pro. I'll try not to rant and rave about it too much but the Mavic unquestionably stands as the most brilliantly integrated item of technology I have ever owned or used. We're talking a highly manoeuvrable 30 kph utterly stable 4K steadycam on a gimble, if you don't mind.

Sheba's Palace - a Pre-Islamic Fort in Shimal, RAK

The Mavic does what it's supposed to and is very, very good at stopping idiots like me from breaking it. Believe me, I have tried to do for it in every murderous way imaginable. The Mavic just flashes its LEDs at me and refuses to do the thing that the stupid with the controller is asking it to do. Fly it out of range? It comes home automatically. Run out of battery while 400 feet up over a mountainside? It flies home while it still has enough power in reserve. Drive it at full speed into a wall? It just goes 'Umm, no.' Smash it with enough RF to burn out a Dalek? It auto-returns and lands safely all by itself.

Wadi Suq era burial - Shimal, RAK

Clearly, before parting company with such a terrifying amount of money, I had looked up how to certify a drone in the Emirates. The UAE drone legislation is basically very sensible indeed (it's linked here) and you are asked merely to fill in an online form with your and the drone's details (linked here) and hey presto, you're registered. The UAE drone/UAV law covers mostly basic, common sense usage of a drone. The use of camera drones is permitted in the UAE, but with the usual caveats that apply to the Emirates' attitudes to personal privacy and space. Photography near military sites, ports, hotels or family areas is most definitely a nono - with or without a drone. It has ever been thus.

Murabbaa, or watchtower, Falaj Al Mualla

There's an app 'My Drone Hub', which you can download and this has an interactive map of fly/no fly zones. These have a tendency to change (quite a lot of the east coast seaboard recently became 'no fly'), so it's worth looking up your location before you fly. The Mavic, of course, has a better idea of where it is supposed to fly/not fly than I do in any case, being a great deal smarter than its owner.

Yes, I realise this sets the bar quite low, thank you.

Unexcavated area at Mleiha

Basically, as with other UAE drone regulation stuff, the fly/no fly zones broadly make sense. There's an almost blanket ban of Abu Dhabi, and the Omani border no fly zone has been widened (the Omanis aren't terribly 'drone friendly'), which has put areas such as Jebel Hafit and Thuqeibah beyond reach, which is sad. But many other areas of interest (to me, at least) remain accessible.

Shamash Temple, Ed-Dur, UAQ

So now I can get aerial images of my various sites (forts,  burials, wadis, oases, the lot) and have a lot of fun flying around in the process. It's worth every (sigh) penny, believe me. I'm aiming to go back to the UK on leave, so I took the 20 question multiple choice test that has just been introduced there and registered as a UK operator, too. I got one question wrong (you have to get 16/20 to pass, so it wasn't such a bad flub) - which was about drone etiquette in the snow. I haven't, I must confess, had much experience of that - well, at least not yet...

A little bit of Ireland! :)

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