People fly drone aircraft in locations all over the world for recreation, art projects, and professional reasons. In many locations, drone pilots do not need a license to fly for recreational purposes unless they are operating their drones in areas where sensitive government, military, and corporate interests need to protect their assets.
Due to security reasons like these, Saudi Arabia is one part of the world where licensing requirements for drone aircraft have been put into place. Needless to say, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia takes its security needs quite seriously.
Many people operate drone aircraft in and around the Saudi Kingdom without first obtaining the requisite permission, and they usually have their drones confiscated as a result. In some cases, further legal ramifications have also resulted from illegal drone operations.
The good news is that the Saudi authorities and the General Authority for Civic Aviation (GACA) do provide a clear route to obtaining licensing and permission to fly drones in Saudi Arabia. The rules and conditions are clear and straightforward, and you will be able to fly your drone in the region securely once you have completed the process.
So the answer to the question is, yes, you can bring your drone to Saudi Arabia.
Here, we will discuss the rules surrounding these and similar issues and help you understand the licensing process.
How to apply for permission to bring your drone to Saudi Arabia
People traveling to Saudi Arabia from abroad who wish to bring a drone into the country are required to first obtain a Certificate of Aircraft Registration from the GACA. This is a part of the customs protocol for drone operators.
Once the registration is obtained and the registration number is affixed to the drone, you will be permitted to enter the country with your drone.
It should be noted that each drone that foreign visitors wish to bring into Saudi Arabia must be registered individually.
Each drone will be assigned a separate registration number, and they must all have their registration numbers affixed to the body of the craft/s securely and visibly.
All applications will be handled by the GACA. An online portal is provided for drone pilots to use to register their drone aircraft and similar devices.
Private drone operators are required to pay 250 SAR, (60 euros, $62.22 USD). Commercial drone operators are required to pay 500 SAR (120 euros, $124.45 USD).
Drone operation rules in Saudi Arabia
The GACA specifically states that drone piloting in Saudi Arabia is legal. However, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia considers drones to be a significant threat to public safety.
Still, the regional government has set up channels of opportunity enabling private drone pilots to fly drones legally.
The Saudi Kingdom has set forth the following rules for civic drone flight in the region.
- Drones may not be flown directly over large crowds of people. Drones may be flown near crowds and events, but they must remain at an observational distance from crowds.
- Drones may not be flown higher than 150 meters (400 feet). Drones flying above this altitude are considered a risk to local aviation.
- Drone pilots must maintain visual contact with their devices. The pilot must be able to see the aircraft by direct line of sight. Flying a drone outside of the direct line of sight of the pilot is considered a potential form of military reconnaissance.
- Flying drones near and over airports and locations frequented by manned aircraft is to be avoided due to the potential for an aerial collision.
- Drones may only be flown during daylight hours in good weather. This is to avoid accidents that could endanger property and the safety of the public.
- Drone flights over sensitive locations such as military and government installations are prohibited. Drones equipped with cameras are strictly prohibited in these and similar areas.
Drone aircraft registration in Saudi Arabia
Operators of drone aircraft weighing 250 grams or more must obtain a Certificate of Aircraft Registration. This certificate, once obtained, must be renewed every three years.
All drones in this weight category will be issued an identification number by the Registry after the operator’s application for a Certificate of Aircraft Registration has been approved.
This identification number is to be affixed to the drone craft in a secure location where it can be easily seen and read by inspectors.
Drone operation authorization application in Saudi Arabia
Applications must be submitted in the proper format as outlined by the President of the GACA, including information about the performance characteristics of the drone, its communications capabilities, pilot identification information, and other critical data as determined by the GACA.
Rules for recreational use of drones in Saudi Arabia
As mentioned above, the rules for the recreational use of drones are less stringent than the rules for commercial use. Keep in mind that all of the rules described above still apply.
The registry requirement applies to all drone pilots with devices weighing 250 grams or more. Recreational and professional pilots, as well as foreign visitors who wish to bring a drone in from another country, must comply with the registry requirement.
Further, each individual drone must be registered in order to be in compliance with Saudi Arabian law.
The recreational use rules for drones are as follows:
- Recreational drones must be submitted for inspection and issued a certificate of airworthiness in accordance with GACA regulations. Most drones that are commercially sold will meet the requirements to be declared airworthy.
- Drone pilots may only operate their drones in locations that are authorized drone flight locations by the GACA Air Traffic Control provider for the region. Locations permitting drone flights can be found on the GACA website for Saudi Arabia.
- The regional President of the GACA must have given express permission to the drone operator to fly a drone.
- All drone pilots must obtain and maintain a license in accordance with GACAR guidelines, Part 61.
As you can see, the rules for recreational drone pilots who wish to operate in Saudi Arabia are clear. They may be a bit stringent in some cases. But you will find this is the case in any location where security concerns are especially high, as they are in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
In the United States, for example, most drone operators are unaware of the local rules and regulations and fly their devices in violation of them. As it happens, the rules are more strictly enforced in Saudi Arabia for national security reasons.
It should be noted that the 250-gram weight designation is a little over half a pound. This means if your drone does not meet the weight limit, you may be exempted from the registration requirements.
Still, it is advisable to consult with the GACA before flying any drone, especially before attempting to bring such a device into the country from abroad.