Saudi civil aviation authority to begin issuing drone permits

A drone is used to record a military parade by Saudi security forces. (AP Photo)
Updated 12 January 2019
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Saudi civil aviation authority to begin issuing drone permits

  • Caters for hobbyists, enthusiasts and commercial ‘Unmanned Aircraft Systems’ (UAS) operators
  • Permit allows for recreational and commercial drone use

RIYADH: The General Authority for Civil Aviation (GACA) began receiving Unmanned Aircarft Systems (UAS) drone permit applications via its website on Thursday. Those who own a drone or wish to purchase one and fly it in Saudi Arabia can register and receive the relevant permits through https://eaviation.gaca.gov.sa/uas/.

On its website on Thursday, GACA announced the launching of this electronic service.

“The Saudi General Authority of Civil Aviation, the Kingdom’s regulator of all aspects of civil aviation has announced launching its electronic service to obtain permits required for operating unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones in the Saudi Arabia, as part of its comprehensive digital transformation project for all of the services provided by the authority.

“Launching this e-service falls within the context of the relentless efforts exerted by GACA for a safe airspace achieving a secure environment in accordance with the strictest international safety standards, in addition to improve and regulate the navigation of drones, in line with the Kingdom’s vision 2030.”

This comes as much of a delight for hobbyists, enthusiasts and commercial ‘Unmanned Aircraft Systems’ (UAS) operators, who for years have operated under the radar, facing investigation and detention, if caught flying a drone.

“The idea was to fly the drone away from the take-off point, as quickly as possible, so as not to be seen”, said one drone pilot, who asked to only be identified as Majid. “Then when you come in to land you land as quickly as possible, then get in your car and go. That’s how I have been getting away with it.”

With the new GACA permits, drone operators will be able to relax.

This journalist applied for a drone permit online and found the application process to be a simple one and allows for recreational and commercial drone use. Applicants are required to submit a copy of the national identity card or iqama and the make, model and serial number of the drone they are registering. There is also the option to obtain a Saudi Customs clearance certificate through GACA to import a drone into the country.

Information required by GACA includes a copy of the applicant’s national identity card or iqama, as well as the make and serial number of the drone. If one has received formal training in operating a drone, consideration is given for that.

Within the first 24 hours of opening online registration, GACA received 241 applications.

From the GACA website, it appears that registration for each drone is required, and permission for each flight is also required. How quickly GACA can approve those requests will be seen in the coming days and weeks.

Bringing a drone into Saudi Arabia has always been a smuggler’s task with several confiscated by Saudi Customs over the years at various points of entry. Foreign journalists and film-makers were also banned from bringing them into the country unless prior arrangements and permission was granted by the Ministry of Media’s Foreign Media Department.

“There was always much confusion regarding drone permits and those wishing to apply for one were being referred to either the Ministry of Media, GACA, the Ministry of the Interior, local Governorate, the General Commission for Audiovisual Media, the local Municipality or the Saudi Federation for Cybersecurity, Programming and Drones,” said Seif, a Saudi film-maker and drone enthusiast.

“Where you were referred, depended on who you asked, and you ended up not flying, or flying illegally,” Seif added.

Drone pilots that Arab News spoke to had a concern, and that is whether a GACA permit is all that is needed to fly, or will one need other permits on top of the GACA one.

Arab News will be approaching GACA on Sunday for more information about regulations including whether training courses are required, and about how quickly day-flying permits take to process.

On Friday, online black-market advertisements for drones for sale in the Kingdom began including the link to the GACA drone registration website, arguably marking the end of black-market drone sales in the Kingdom.

Black-market prices online have always been elevated and remained so over the weekend in the case of drones for sale.

One man named Abdulaziz who had two of the latest DJI Mavic drones available for sale in Jeddah, was selling them for SR2,000 more than they are sold for in shops in Dubai.

When asked why, he said: “I had to bring them it into the country.”

With this new regulation it is expected that drones will soon be appearing in stores all around Saudi Arabia.


Saudi Arabia, South Korea reach agreement on visas

King Salman chairs the Cabinet session in Riyadh on Tuesday. (SPA)
Updated 16 January 2019
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Saudi Arabia, South Korea reach agreement on visas

  • Cabinet OKs air transport pact with Indonesia

JEDDAH: The Saudi Cabinet met to discuss a series of national and global developments on Tuesday, in a session chaired by King Salman.

At the forefront of the agenda was the escalation in tensions between Israel and Hamas along the Gaza border, and the continuing encroachment on Palestinian land by Israeli settlers in the West Bank. The Cabinet responded by demanding that the UN Security Council intervene. King Salman also relayed to ministers the outcome of his talks with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, which covered many regional issues.

The minister of media, Turki bin Abdullah Al-Shabanah, announced that after reviewing proposals from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a decision from the Shoura Council, a memorandum of understanding between the government and the Republic of Korea on granting visit visas had been agreed upon.

The Cabinet approved the amendment of the air agreement on regular air transport between Saudi Arabia and Indonesia.

The Cabinet, meanwhile, praised the progress of the 2025 Sustainable Agricultural and Rural Development Program, aimed at enhancing farming techniques by promoting sustainable water and renewable energy sources.

They also discussed the framework in Vision 2030 and the National Transformation Program 2020 for building a sustainable renewable energy sector, reiterating aims to lead global renewable energy developments over the next decade, and create projects such as the wind-powered plant at Dumat Al-Jandal, as part of the King Salman Renewable Energy Initiative.

In a statement, though, Al-Shabanah said: “The Cabinet discussed the announcement made by the minister of energy, industry and mineral resources about the Kingdom’s oil and gas reserves, which highlighted the importance of Saudi Arabia as a secure source of oil supplies in the long term.”

He added, in closing, the Cabinet’s praise for the efforts of Saudi security forces in the tracking and arrest of seven people in Qatif, which foiled a planned terrorist attack.