Saudi Arabia Finalizing Drone Rules Following Palace Incident

Saudi Arabia’s interior ministry is warning drone users to get permission before flying as officials scramble to finalize new regulations following an incident near the royal palace last week. Saudi police are investigating the episode in which soldiers shot down a recreational drone hovering within a restricted area around King Salman’s palace.

“One of the security screening points in the neighborhood of Khuzama in Riyadh noticed the flying of an unauthorized small recreational drone leading the security men in the security point to deal with it according to their orders and instructions in this regard,” a Saudi Press Agency statement reads. According to a spokesperson with the Interior Ministry, pilots must obtain the necessary clearance from designated police agencies to fly drones “for particular reasons in permitted locations,” according to the SPA.

“The regulation for the use of remote controlled drones is in its final stages,” the statement said in a release that provided little in terms of details. Three years ago, the Saudi government banned drones “of all types and sizes” without prior permits. According to independent news source The New Arab, the drone incident “sparked fears of a possible coup attempt.”

“Security around the royal palaces appears to have tightened in recent months as powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman oversees landmark social and economic reforms to prepare for a post-oil era, despite the risk of riling religious hardliners,” the report added.

Use of drones – both for commercial, military and insurgent use – has sparked a wave of controversy across the Middle East over the past few years. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps deployed drones allegedly capable of carrying eight missiles in 2016 to help Syria contain rebel forces.

Last year, ISIS claimed to have commissioned “drone Jihadist units.” However, in the United Arab Emirates, drone innovation is fast becoming a hot commodity in the tech sector. In September, Dubai’s crown Prince Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, announced “the world’s first concept flight of the Autonomous Air Taxi (Volocopter).”

In 2016, the UAE’s General Civil Aviation Authority, announced that Nokia would install a comprehensive drone UTM system – the first of its kind for a national government – to help officials manage automated flight permissions, no-fly zone regulation and beyond-visual-line-of-sight safety operations.