Drones are revolutionizing the way that many companies do business all over the world, and that’s not limited to just a few countries. Though everyone feels the impact, not every country handles the growth the same. The United States is under FAA regulation and Canada follows Transport Canada rules; what do the laws and regulations look like in countries within the Middle East, and how do they're projects influence the market in unique ways?
On this episode of Propelling we sat down with Charles Al Rachid, Middle East regional sales manager for Microdrones. Our discussion covers regulations and how they’ve changed since 2009. Charles was actually part of the team that worked with different government agencies within the UAE and Saudi Arabia, to help develop some of the original guidelines and regulations in 2009. According to Al Rachid, the goal is always to enable companies “to be able to provide their services in a safe, secure, and legal way.”
Meet Charles Al Rachid
Charles Al Rachid, Microdrones Regional Manager for the Middle East, discusses the rules and regulations in the region, some of his most interesting use cases for drones, the best ways to get clients to find tangible benefits from implementing drones into their workflow, and some of the best prospects for growth of the drone market in the Middle East.
Charles has a background in project management, business development, sales, and customer service, with over 12 years’ experience in business development and sales in the Middle Eastern geospatial market. Based in Dubai, Charles helps coordinate and growth business opportunities for Microdrones throughout the Middle East.
Opportunity for drone use in the Middle East is abundant and growing at a fast pace. However, complicating the practice are the various rules and regulations governing flights throughout the area. The region hasn't unified their drone regulation under one framework, meaning from city to city, drone pilots need to be aware of the different rules in effect.
Charles was involved in the development of some of the regulations that were implemented in the Middle East, back in 2009. “In cooperation with different government entities in the Middle East, basically the UAE and Saudi Arabia, we worked hand in hand to develop and pave the way to regulate this industry,” said Al Rachid. “We cooperated with both the general city aviation offices in the UAE and Dubai City for the Emirate of Dubai and the authorities in Saudi Arabia to build a navigation map for all the services providers to be able to provide their services in a safe, secure and legal way.”
The regulations have changed a lot since 2009. The practice used to involve a complicated inspection process with a lengthy trail of paperwork and observation by the Ministry of Defense. Now in 2019, the process is completely online, where all drones can be registered, and the pilots are required to pass a license evaluation test.
“It’s a very easy, quite straight-forward automated online process to register the drone,” Al Rachid said. “However, regional authorities govern the regulations when it comes to operating the UAV. For example, in Dubai, back in 2009, we could send a drone up in the air for 30-45 minutes, while monitoring its progress from the back seat of our car. Today, regulations in Dubai require you to keep the drone within your visual line of sight. The same rules do not apply in Saudi Arabia, where you can operate your drone beyond visual line of site. That’s why I would say rules are different from one city to another in the Middle East.”
Drone Growth in the Middle East
One of the applications that presents a great opportunity for drone usage is corridor mapping across the desert. The Gulf Cooperation Council oversees massive, areas of desert, that will need some utility inspection and management for cable, lines and towers. “This infrastructure goes for thousands of kilometers and in many cases, they are in inaccessible areas,” Charles explains. “Drones solve that problem. Where cars and other mobile mapping equipment cannot gather data since they cannot operate on sand dunes. With the drone, it is much easier to fly over the corridor and not put any of your surveyors at risk. Before we had the drones, this wasn’t possible. A client would see this as too expensive or too risky.”
Charles was also involved in a successful survey project in Dubai for one of the largest regional developers. He had ten communities to survey and one of them was the iconic tree-shaped Palm Jumeirah island. “This is a well-known landmark in Dubai,” Charles said. “The size is over 40 square kilometers that covers all sorts of terrain including vegetation, desert, built up areas and bridges. We had to deliver 5 cm resolution imagery with a true orthophoto. It was a challenging project to measure with a drone. Normally, in the past, this would have been achieved with traditional surveying methods, where you have to fly an actual aircraft with a one million dollar sensor, and it was very expensive project. Using the drone, it was ten times less costly and we could achieve the same accuracy as traditional methods would achieve. In fact, the client was so impressed, they awarded this same job annually to this team.”
The Future of Drones in the Middle East
Drone use will continue to expand into many different industries across the Middle East. The current lack of consistent regulations in the region creates some challenges when it comes to mission planning. However, these inconsistencies do not prevent drone operations. “The market here in the middle east still needs more education about the benefits of implementing and adopting drone technology,” says Charles. “The future here will be with the technology development. I can envision drones being deployed in the utility sector, in safety and security fields, and the energy industry specific to Oil and gas in the Middle East. Drones are already actively touching all the applications of surveying. If the government can help unify regulations across the region, I think you’ll encourage more people and companies to use drones. We believe the drones are environmentally friendly, cost effective and efficient.”
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