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.


Saudis recall history’s greatest TV event: Apollo moon landing

Updated 20 July 2019
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Saudis recall history’s greatest TV event: Apollo moon landing

  • The TV images beamed from 320,000km away in space left viewers astounded but happy
  • The TV coverage influenced thinking and attitudes in the Kingdom just like everywhere else

DUBAI: It was a sleepy afternoon in Saudi Arabia, just days before the end of the school vacation, and Saudis had their eyes glued to their TV sets as they waited for live coverage of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

Before July 20, 1969, the idea of a human walking on the moon was the stuff of science fiction. However, almost overnight, sci-fi had turned into reality with a live broadcast showing American astronaut Neil Armstrong’s dramatic descent onto the empty lunar landscape.

Between science fiction and science fact, the live coverage of the lunar landing amounted to an unusual fusion of news and entertainment.

Saudi TV technicians bring the first live images of Neil Armstrong’s 1969 moon landing to
viewers around the Kingdom. (Supplied photo)

The historic images — beamed back to Earth more than 320,000 km away — left Saudi viewers astounded and confused, but mostly elated to be witnessing such an epoch-making event.

The event was covered live on television and radio stations in Saudi Arabia. Most Saudis and residents living in the Kingdom watched it on Saudi channels 1 and 3, owned by Saudi Aramco.

Hessah Al-Sobaie, a housewife from Al-Dawadmi, recalled watching the moon landing from her grandparents’ backyard as an 11-year-old.

“It felt weird watching a human walk on the moon,” she told Arab News. “I remember the endless questions I asked as a child.”

While most people were aware that going to the moon was risky, many Saudis believed that such a journey was impossible and all but unthinkable.


EVENTS WATCH

1. NASA’s Apollo 11 mission control room in Houston has been restored to its 1969 condition and regular tours
will be conducted by the Johnson Space Center.

2. NASA ‘Science Live’ will have a special edition on July 23 on board the aircraft carrier that recovered the Apollo 11 capsule.

3. A summer moon festival and family street fair will be held in Wapakoneta, Ohio, from July 17-20.

4. Downtown Houston’s Discovery green will host a free public screening of the ‘Apollo 11’ documentary, with an appearance by NASA astronaut Steve Bowen.

5. Amateur radio operators will host a series of events on July 20-21.

6. The US Space and Rocket Center is staging a special ‘Rockets on Parade’ exhibition.


The Apollo 11 mission prompted discussions across the Middle East over the reality of what people saw on their TV screens. Some Saudi scholars found it hard to believe their eyes.

“I watched it, and I clearly remember each and every detail of the coverage,” Hayat Al-Bokhari, 68, a retired school principal in Jeddah, said.

“My father, Abdul, was 56 at the time. He said the landing was faked. He couldn’t believe or accept that a human could go to the moon.”

Khaled Almasud, 70, a retired university lecturer, was a student in the US state of Oregon at the time of the mission. “Americans were stunned and over the moon, happy with their national achievement. But many Saudis like me were either in denial or insisting on more proof.”

Since the beginning of the 1960s, King Faisal had been rapidly transforming Saudi Arabia, inviting foreign-trained experts to help build a modern country with world-class infrastructure.

Billie Tanner, now 90, lived in the Kingdom for many years with her husband, Larry, and their two children, Laurie and Scott, aged six and four. The family had just arrived in Saudi Arabia and headed to the Aramco compound in Ras Tanura in the Eastern Province.

A screengrab of video of the first lunar landing beamed toward Earth and shown on television worldwide. 

“We were going through a culture shock,” she told Arab News. “I wasn’t thinking of the moon landing, but we heard about it on the news from Dhahran.

“My kids tried to see the astronauts on the moon with their binoculars and said they could see them walking around.”

The Apollo 11 spaceflight has become a milestone in the annals of human history and science. Since 1969 space exploration has greatly expanded man’s knowledge of the universe, far beyond Earth’s limits.

The captivating live coverage of the moon landing inspired millions of people around the world, profoundly influencing their thinking and attitudes.

The people of Saudi Arabia were no exception.