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Tue 3 Sep 2019 08:35 AM

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Drones experts call for increased regulation to avert possible airport disaster

Thorsten Chmielus and Aaditya Khimji are behind first ever drone detection system being installed at Muscat International Airport

Drones experts call for increased regulation to avert possible airport disaster
Germany-based electronics firm Aaronia AG installed the world's first drone detection system at Muscat International Airport.

The man behind the first drone detection system to be installed at Muscat International Airport has said more regulation must be introduced to head off a potential catastrophe in the skies.

Thorsten Chmielus, CEO of Germany-based electronics firm Aaronia AG, told Arabian Business it was “a miracle” that a serious incident involving an aeroplane and a drone hadn’t happened yet.

“I’m still waiting for the A380 flying over an airport to be hit by a drone and then going up in flames. Then you have 800 people dead and then you’ll have people saying, ‘why don’t we have an airport protection system for drones?’ It will be too late. Now is the time,” he said.

Thorsten has teamed up with Aaditya Khimji, managing director of R & N Khimji LLC, for the Muscat International Airport installation, which is scheduled to be fully up-and-running by the end of the year.

Currently there are hundreds of millions of drones across the world, used for a variety of purposes, leisure, commercial, sports, military and defence. They have proven invaluable in terms of security surveillance and emergency situations and as a communication tool in areas with no cell phone signal. They have also been deployed successfully in IoT solutions in agriculture and environmental monitoring.

An FAA 2016-2036 drone forecast predicted that there will be about 7 million drones in the air by 2020. The FAA predicts that by 2020, commercial drone sales alone will reach 2.7 million. To put that number into perspective, it is estimated that there are between 23,600 and 39,000 planes in the world today.

However, all that is required to fly a drone is that it be registered with the General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA).

Khimji said: “In terms of regulation, because the drone industry has picked up so quickly, there hasn’t really been time for countries to get involved and regulate. People are not trained in flying. Just like you’re licensed to drive a car, you should be licensed to fly a small aircraft. Whether it’s considered a toy or not.

“You’re not getting the driving license for the car, you’re getting the driving license for you. Right now, the regulations around the world, the license is for the drone. There’s no training for safety or best practices. People don’t even understand where they can fly.”

Restrictions in place

The GCAA and DCAA forbid flying drones near, around and over airports. In addition, federal and municipal authorities have banned the flying of drones over residential areas to protect people's privacy.

In order to fly a drone in Dubai, you have to obtain a no objection certificate from DCAA and, as previously stated, all drones must be registered with GCAA.

Chmielus said: “People often say with drones that you’re scared of the ones that know how to use it, you should actually be scared of the people who don’t know what they’re doing because the fool who buys it and doesn’t know he’s in the range of where the plane is going, he is more of a concern than the person who is trying to do something bad.

“That’s exactly what we’re seeing on the systems that we’ve already installed. What we’re seeing is not terrorists, what we’re seeing is idiots who want to take a picture of the aeroplane with the pilot waving, or if it comes worse, they simply lose the drone because of malfunction, and this drone enters the airspace of the airport by accident. That’s what our system is also protecting.”

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