By Conrad Prabhu — MUSCAT: Feb. 27 – Regulations governing the import and operation of unmanned aerial vehicles (commonly referred to as drones) are being drafted by the Public Authority for Civil Aviation (PACA), a key official said on Monday. Anwar al Raisi, Director-General – PACA, said the draft regulations are being formulated in conjunction with key stakeholders, notably the National Survey Authority (NSA) — part of the Ministry of Defence, Royal Oman Police and Royal Air Force of Oman (RAFO). The exercise is also being coordinated with PACA’s counterparts across the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) with the aim of harmonising regulations across the bloc.
Speaking at the first-ever Drones Oman Conference & Workshop at the Crowne Plaza Muscat, Al Raisi said the Omani authorities were eager to facilitate the approvals process for enabling the import and use of drones for recreational and commercial uses in the Sultanate.
However, he warned that safety and security will take precedence when granting permission, citing as an example the spate of recent airport closures in the neighbouring region triggered by the presence of unauthorised drones straying into restricted zones.
PACA, as the regulator, will serve as a focal point for all requests pertaining to drone import and operation in the Sultanate.
If the operation of the device also involves the use of an onboard camera, then the approval of the Natural Survey Authority will be sought as well.
As the single-point contact for all such applications, PACA will also get the requisite approvals from other relevant stakeholders, notably the ROP and RAFO, the official said.
Further, in a bid to smooth the approval process, PACA is preparing to post two sets of applications on its website: one concerns the import of drone equipment via the Sultanate’s land and air borders, and the other pertains to authorisation for the operation of drones in the Sultanate.
These applications will be available online within the coming fortnight, said Al Raisi.
Moreover, with a view to easing the way for hobbyists to use drones for creational purposes, PACA will explore the possibility of creating drone-friendly zones in the city, he said.
Earlier, Col Rabeea bin Suleiman al Aghbari, Director of Geographic Services, National Survey Authority (NSA), said that applications for drone use will take no more than 5–10 days to process provided all of the requested information is furnished by the applicant.
Government ministries, he said, represent the majority of applicants for drone use, primarily for aerial surveys, oil field inspections and project-related applications.
Requests typically spike around National Day, Muscat Festival and other major public events, he said.
His colleague, Lt Col Yousuf bin Harith al Nabhani, Staff Officer 1 — Geographical Names, NSA, warned that imports of drones for commercial or recreation purposes are currently restricted unless accompanied by an Aerial Operation Permit (AEP) issued in advance by relevant regulatory and security agencies.
Consequently, equip-ment brought in via Oman’s land and air borders are liable to be confiscated without this key authorisation, he said.
The two-day conference, organised by IQPC Middle East, opened with brief remarks by Sally French, founder of thedronegirl.com and a renowned international speaker on drones. Michael Herrero, Area Manager, Gulf, IATA, also shed light on the status of drone regulation across the GCC region.