Dubai airport grounds flights for 30 minutes over drone

© Jumana El Heloueh
Dubai International Airport was forced to close airspace for 30 minutes Wednesday morning due to unauthorized drone activity in the second such incident in three months.

Officials grounded flights just after 8 a.m. local time after a drone was spotted nearby, causing flight delays. Arrivals resumed at 8.35 a.m. and the airport was fully operational again by 9.07 a.m.

Drone activity is strictly prohibited within 5km of any airport or landing area in Dubai, airport officials noted.

This is the third incident in the last two years where an unauthorized UAV in Dubai airspace has brought flight operations to a halt at the international airport.

The most recent case was in June of this year when air traffic was suspended for an hour resulting in delays and diversions which the Dubai Civil Aviation Authority estimated cost the economy up to US$69 million.

It’s estimated that every minute of closed airspace costs the economy $1 million, putting the price tag of this latest drone appearance in the region of $32 million.

In April 2015, Dubai introduced more restrictions on the use of drones as part of its revised aviation laws.

Drone owners are required to register with the United Arab Emirates' General Civil Aviation Authority and those caught flying their drones in sensitive no-fly zones are liable for fines up to 1 million dirham ($272,000).

Earlier this week, the UAE General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) announced plans for a new law to restrict the import and sale of drones in response to the growing use of drones in Dubai.

Drones can be purchased from retailers in Dubai and some other parts of the UAE but their sale has been banned in Abu Dhabi due to the perceived risks posed to the aviation sector.

Dubai is also set to become the first city to monitor drones flying near airports in real time with special tracking software.

The Exponent Portal software was unveiled at the World Aviation Safety Summit in Dubai last April and will allow DCAA officials and other local authorities to track the location, speed and height of drones. It will also be able to view and record the material being collected by the drone’s on-board camera.

Dubai International is the world's busiest airport in terms of international passenger traffic, with some 6,500 flights connecting to or from Dubai each week.

The surge in drone popularity both by civilians and for commercial use has led to a number of near misses with aircraft. In April the UK experienced its first-ever drone collision with a passenger plane at Heathrow Airport London. No-one was injured in the incident.