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Middle East plays 'catch up' with drone technology

Posted 20 December 2016 · Add Comment

A new white paper, compiled by IQPC Middle East in association with next February's Drones Oman conference, says the Middle East will likely catch up quickly with the rest of the world in driving UAV technology growth, particularly in the small drone market.

The paper says that due to the Middle East’s rapidly urbanising, technologically-adaptable youth population, drones are “beginning to fit into the region’s future plans for the creation of smart cities, improved logistical capacities and better, smarter infrastructure.”

However, the paper concedes that the adoption of UAV technology has not been without obstacles in the region where several governments, including in Abu Dhabi and Oman, have implemented bans and sanctions in response to privacy, air space safety and security concerns. New regulatory guidance though, says the paper, is making the “smooth integration of drones into the fabric of everyday life” in the region more plausible than ever.

Focusing on the potential for drones in Oman, the paper cites examples of cutting edge drone applications in Oman Petroleum Development’s (PDO) live flare inspections of key oilfield locations.

“The agility and manoeuvrability of the drones being used for this purpose means that they are capable of making such inspections much more quickly, efficiently and safely than relying on human engineering staff to physically conduct the inspections themselves,” says the paper.

Since its late 2012 initial drone inspection tests, PDO has apparently expanded its use of UAV technology to incorporate a wider range of inspection, discovery and monitoring duties, further improving operational efficiency while minimising production interruptions, HSE exposure and overall environment impact.

Drones, says the report, are a “vital part of the Omani Government’s smart city initiatives” being a link in the ICT chain that connects all areas of public services, governance and infrastructure.

“Thanks to the advanced computing capabilities of systems connected through mobile and Internet of Things (IoT) devices, drones will be able to significantly boost the logistical capabilities of smart city systems. From carrying out monitoring tasks, remote inspections and repair works to city infrastructure, to delivering medical supplies to hospitals and citizens’ homes, the potential applications of UAV in the smart cities of Oman’s future are near limitless,” says the paper.

Omani and other Middle Eastern operators are finding a much wider range of uses for 3D mapping drones. Farming, search and rescue, construction and civic planning operations are a few areas the paper claims are “greatly benefitting from this innovative technology.”

Drones are cited as being extensively used as part of the French Archaeological Mission to Adam (MAFA) in Oman, to map the mission’s Bisya/Salut site.

The paper quotes Julien Guery, founder of JMMG Consulting, as saying: “In the beginning, I expected that drones would be the perfect tool for aerial photogrammetry of archaeological sites and buildings, and for producing digital elevation models. Now, I consider drones useful for every step of archaeological work—from surveys, including very large areas, to architectural drawing, and 3D modelling of landscapes, sites and buildings.”

Up until very recently, there has been a countrywide ban on the sale and flying of drones in Oman, either for recreational or commercial purposes. However, licensing of drones for both types of usage has begun and each case is considered by a specially constituted panel comprising representatives from the Royal Oman Police, Royal Air Force of Oman (Rafo), and the Public Authority for Civil Defence and other agencies. “Initial distrust of UAV technology seems to be lessening in Oman though government organisations still maintain that its inherent risk of misuse means that diligence is vital when considering drone regulation,” says the paper.

A Royal Oman Policy statement issued earlier this year said: “Drones can become dangerous in the hands of an inexperienced or unprofessional operator. Drones could pose threats to manned aircraft if they come in their zone and can be also used politically for spying. Commercial operators have to undergo an onerous review before they can put drones in the air. Registration gives us an opportunity to work with these users to operate their unmanned aircraft safely. After all, when drone usage impinges on national security, it can cause enormous damage if not regulated.”

Currently the UAE’s General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) prohibits “any man-made object” entering the area of airspace above 200 feet above the ground within 8 km of an airport or 300 feet above the ground elsewhere in the UAE, unless approved by the appropriate Emirate Department of Civil Aviation. “However, as drone technology evolves further, additional revisions of these allowances may become necessary,” says the paper.

“Across the bulk of the Middle East a wide range of regulations are emerging which determine how and where drones can be used, depending on their size and purpose classifications. In turn, this will soon lead to a broad range of drone categories and licensing requirements depending on the weight of the drone and the type of user (individual, corporate or governmental). The relative newness of this regulatory landscape is likely to cause difficulties for commercial entities looking to make use of drone technology, as they will need to quickly get to grips with all the legal requirements and potential penalties as and when they are made into law.

“Furthermore, these regulations have the potential to create all manner of logistical difficulties for companies trying to buy, sell and utilise drones of all varieties. As Middle East regulatory bodies try to strike an optimal balance between safeguarding personal privacy and national security without unduly hamstringing commercial operations, it becomes apparent that the application of drones represents an exciting, yet challenging prospect.”

The paper suggests that “The Sky’s the limit for Drones in Oman” with the Sultantate’s government understanding and being prepared “to endorse drone technology for its many economic benefits.”

“They are fully aware of their wide-ranging potential applications and are actively seeking to encourage their innovative use,” says the paper. “As this vital technology becomes increasingly widespread, affordable and refined, it seems almost inevitable that it will experience greater integration into the Middle East’s social and economic landscape, especially given the high level of government support.

“Given the wide range of potential applications of UAV technology, practically every Omani organisation – both private and public – should be analysing its potential impact in their sector and, if necessary, should prepare to incorporate it in a manner that will grant the greatest long-term benefit with the least amount of change resistance.”

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