united arab emirates drone

How to operate a drone commercially in United Arab Emirates

Want to fly drones commercially in United Arab Emirates?

It’s not exactly the easiest task. Applying is costly  (more than $1,000), and time-consuming.

Rules also very by where in UAE you’re flying.

In Dubai, you will have to pay a location fee of AED 3,300 (or more depending on filming location) — that’s $899. Then, you’ll have to pay additional online fees of AED 5,100 ($1,388) to DCAA and expect 5 working days of processing time.



You’ll want to start by reading through rules from the General Civil Aviation Authority and the Civil Aviation Regulations. But even the regulators understand the process for commercial drone operation is complicated.

I attended a panel discussion at the 2nd Annual Drones Middle East in Abu Dhabi, and here are some tips they gave:

Panelists were:

  • Michael Hayes, Manager Air Navigation Sectio, UAE General Civil Aviation Authority
  • Waleed Al Riyami, Air Navigation Inspector, UAE General Civil Aviation Authority
  • Ronald Rigney, Aviation Consultant, Department of Tourism Abu Dhabi
  • Jesper Skou, Head of ANS, Abu Dhabi Airports

Submit all the information

“I need to be aware of the location, the coordinates, the height,” Al Riyami said. “That helps me to process the application. If any information is missing, that causes delays.”

Don’t omit anything

“From an air traffic control point of view, it is important to have details about where a drone will operate,” Skou said. “We have to make an impact assessment, look at where the drone will fly. Is it near Abu Dhabi airport? If so, we need to establish a temporary restriction in that area for your drone.”

Plan far in advance

“We have situations where people come to us and want to fly a drone for an event tomorrow,” Hayes said. “Plan ahead.”

“We have heard a lot of complaints about the 3-4 week lead time,” Rigney said.  “We are trying to speed up the process.”

Put realistic timeframes in your application.

“We have had applications for a specific day,” Rigney said. “Then the dust comes through so the operation is cancelled and they have to put in another application.”

You may have to accept partial approval

“We can make partial approvals,” Skou said. “Perhaps we limit the time of flight or we limit the altitude.”

Don’t ever fly near an airport without permission.

“When the airport is closed, we send the police to handle the situation,” Al Riyami said. “Then we file a report and there are repercussions. If an airport is closed, it could have a huge impact on laws.”

“When a drone enters controlled airspace without approval, it can dramatically impact airline traffic,” Hayes said.

UAE maintains that drones must remain 5 kilometers from airports.

Ironically, the day and time Dubai Airport was shut down due to a drone was the same day and time I was headed back home to the U.S. from the conference.

My flight was delayed.


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