YOU’RE ON YOUR DRONE

Abu Dhabi 2016 | AEROSPACE & DEFENSE | FOCUS: DRONES

The UAE drone industry is estimated to be valued at $10 billion by 2025, offering a sizable revenue stream for the ever-expanding economy.

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) have moved from a global phenomenon to a rich-kid gadget, and have now become accessible to the everyday consumer, simultaneously making these products a nascent market ready for emerging and diversifying economies to develop.

The UAE drone industry is estimated to be valued at $10 billion by 2025, offering a sizable revenue stream for the ever-expanding economy. The oil and gas industry has already started using UAVs for inspection exercises and decommissioning, making the process more cost effective and less time consuming. A total of 51% of Abu Dhabi's GDP is still made up by revenue from the oil and gas sector, making this a natural market to utilize UAV services.

Many of the country's leading defense companies fall under the Tawazun Umbrella, a specialist investment and manufacturing arm for the defense sector. Abu Dhabi Autonomous Systems Investments (ADASI) forms the UAV arm of the holding, and diversified its suite of services through engaging with the oil and gas sector, providing UAVs that help detect compromised pipes and monitor the systems. The crux of its business remains security, bolstered by the recent deal for 8 P.1HH UAVs, valued at $346 million (AED1.47 billion). The order for the multi-purpose UAV was made from Italian company Piaggio Aerospace, and will be utilized for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) missions. Signed at 2016's Unmanned Systems Exhibition (UMEX) conference, the order signifies the UAE's intent to invest in this sector and maintain the strong bond with the international defense companies that have helped cement the backbone of the nation's armed services sector. While UAE officials are wary of releasing official defense spending figures, the total deals signed at the convention totaled AED767 million. Again, this falls in line with the regional trends, as it is anticipated that combined GCC spending on unmanned systems will reach $1 billion, or AED3.67 billion, by 2020.
Drone technology is being implemented by the UAE Ministry of Environment and Water for environmental protection—palm weevils can be detected through electromagnetic radiation in palm farms. Meanwhile, students from New York University, Abu Dhabi, developed the competition-winning Wadi Drone, which has been used to survey Wadi Wurayah National Park in Fujairah, reducing the risk and cost of human resources in remote areas.

Interestingly, unmanned surface vehicles (USVs) are now being developed by companies such as Abu Dhabi based Al Seer Marine, which can be remotely controlled from a domestic station, or from another larger vessel. Inflatable boats provide agile and time-effective options for harbor and port security as well as marine oceanographic data collection. ADCOM is another local company that is specializing in the wildlife sector—the company operates a UAV in its fleet that is designed to track whales, facilitated by its 60-70 hour flight time.

The General Civil Aviation Authority is yet to officially legislate on the matter and the Abu Dhabi Department of Economic Development banned the sale of UAVs to the public in May 2015 after a wayward drone caused a delayed flight from one of the UAE's international airports. It is expected that the GCAA will formalize drones in to three weight categories, provide respective frameworks for use, and draw up boundaries where use is permissible. This is to protect the industry from abuse by consumers rather than professionals. True to form, the Abu Dhabi government will want to allow for this sector to be developed to generate revenue and jobs and to continue driving the economy.