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

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 unite in condemnation of US Navy base attack

Updated 08 December 2019

Saudis unite in condemnation of US Navy base attack

  • The attack, in which a Saudi gunman killed three Americans, is viewed as an act that does not represent Saudi people
  • The OIC has said the attacker did not represent the tolerant Islamic values that distinguish the Saudi people

From the king and top-level Saudi government officials to everyday Saudi citizens, all are united in condemning the attack on a US Navy base in Pensacola, Florida, calling it as “un-Islamic” and barbaric.

The shooting of three Americans by a Saudi gunman was an individual attack that does not represent the Kingdom’s people, it has been widely  stressed. 

For decades, many Saudis have lived in the US for work or attended universities across many states, becoming their own ambassadors. 

Nedda Akhonbay, a communications professional working in Jeddah, expressed her sadness when she heard the news.

“My condolences go out to the families of the victims as I hope they find peace in their lives after facing such a tragedy. As a Saudi-American and having spent many formative years in the US and made friends who became like family, I thought this attack was very close to home and I hope both people work together to get past it.”

“As a student who lived in the States, I never faced any problems for being a Muslim,” said Alaa Sendi, an American-Saudi lecturer working in Jeddah University.

Having obtained a PhD in electrical engineering, Dr. Nazih Al-Othmani lived between the states of Michigan and Pennsylvania for ten years in the late 1990s and was in the US during the 9/11 attacks. He recalled how Americans understood that such atrocious attacks never represented a community, and this one was no exception.

“The tragic event that took place yesterday does not represent us, this attack is unacceptable regardless of any reason and no sane person can ever accept it,” he said. “I lived in the States for many years, I was also there on 9/11, and made many American friends throughout my time there. They stood by us, they helped us, protected us and our relationship was very civil and courteous. We need to stand together to combat this dangerous tendency that can be found in every community.”

The attack at the US naval station in Pensacola, Florida, was the second incident at an American military base in this week, following another shooting at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on Wednesday. (
Josh Brasted / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP)

Many Saudis are angered over the actions of this one individual. Dr. Al-Othmani expressed his concerns about those who would take advantage of the situation and try to point a finger at Saudis.

“Though right-wingers will take advantage of the event and attack Saudi Arabia, I don’t believe many Americans will see it that way. Americans are aware enough to differentiate between the nationality of an individual and his actions,” he said.

Al-Othmani recommends that Saudi students communicate, cooperate and extend a hand of friendship to their respective communities.

In the decades of friendship and cooperation between the US and Saudi Arabia, many Americans have come to work in the Kingdom and some have made it their home. 

Dr. Alia Mitchell, vice dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Director of the Teaching and Learning Center at the Prince Sultan University in Riyadh, is an American citizen who has been a Muslim for more than 30 years and has lived in the Kingdom for more than 20 years. She has chosen to live in the Kingdom as she sees the beauty of the religion interwoven into society, one that she believes is not represented by the shooter. 

“When something tragic that happens like this, it’s on the individual,” she said. “it doesn’t go back to the community or the society.

“I’m still sickened and mostly very, very saddened with this tragedy,” said Melanie H. “I’ve a son the same age as the shooter and can’t imagine what the pain and grief his actions would do to me as a parent. To learn that your son has caused so much hell… that he has taken others’ lives.”

She said: “I lived in Saudi Arabia for over 10 years and I have experienced Saudi’s hospitality, warmth — nothing like what I imagined or expected before arriving. It isn’t perfect but then what country or nation is?” 

“Now that the country has opened its doors to the world, people really shouldn’t judge the book by its cover especially when criminals like this shooter make such a false, misleading cover.” 

Melanie H continued: “Do not judge a people by an individual — that’s what we Americans are all about. No judging.”


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He doesn’t represent us’: Saudis tweet in solidarity with Americans over Florida Navy base shooting

 Florida shooting ‘nothing to do with gunman’s family, tribe’


“This crime does not represent us as Saudis,” said Sheikh Abdullatif Al-Sheikh, minister of Islamic Affairs, on his personal Twitter account. “We reject such criminal acts and we sympathize with the injured and the families of the victims. It is a horrible crime and a dishonest act.

“We condemn crimes anywhere and anytime, and we stress our complete rejection of such horrible criminal acts which Islam forbids.”

Saudi scholar and Imam of Quba Mosque in Madinah Saleh Al-Maghamsi shared the same notion. He said: “This incident should be stripped away from religion and from the country to which whoever committed this criminal act is affiliated. The Shariah does not approve of this act for it violates the texts of the Holy Qur’an and the teachings of the Prophet, which is based on the principle of no bloodshed. Logic also does not approve of this action.” 

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) said the aggressor did not represent the tolerant Islamic values that distinguish the Saudi people and all Muslims who believe in tolerance, moderation and coexistence.

The General Secretariat of the Council of Senior Scholars in Saudi Arabia also condemned the shooting incident in Florida and called it a heinous crime. 

Describing it as a crime against humanity, the senior scholars stressed that such actions were against the true teachings of Islam. They said that the Saudi people will continue to uphold their noble values and contribute to the progress and prosperity of the world and humanity.