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The Dubai Civil Aviation Authority Implementing Drone Initiative


Problem Statement

The civil aviation sector of Dubai has been looking into developing safe and secure projects for driving the implementation of new services to the population. The critical problem to address is meeting the growing demand for air transportation while also considering the adverse impact of pollution and hazardous emissions. Considering the advanced development of various technologies and the availability of drone solutions, the implementation of an initiative for passenger drones can meet the needs mentioned above (SESAR, 2016). State-of-the-art drones have shown to be a new and safe mode of transportation, which is a solution to traffic congestion in major cities. However, several challenges are in place when it comes to the implementation of the passenger drones project, such as the issues with commercial stakeholder investing, the high costs of new technologies, difficulties managing infrastructural networks, as well as further technological challenges, which may hinder the potential commercial benefits.

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The recent Dubai law has been introduced in order to facilitate a much broader usage of commercial drones in the UAE as a key component in the creation of the “Dubai Sky Dome” initiative that is under the control of the Dubai Civil Aviation Authority (Commercial Drone Professional, 2020). Law no. 4, which was unveiled in early 2020, intended to develop a comprehensive system for licensing and issuing permits and certificates, NOCs, and inspection services pertaining to drone systems (Commercial Drone Professional, 2020). Besides, the law intended to establish a legal system for investigating drone-related incidents and accidents. The importance of the legislation is associated with the creation of a “structural eco-system for drones” that can enable the transformation of Dubai into an infrastructure of virtual airspaces intended for unmanned aerial vehicle systems that can connect different locations and facilities through runways and miniature airports across the city (Godinho, 2020).

The Dubai Sky Dome will involve a network of ground stations used as drone airports as well as loading and connecting stations, as well as additional stations intended for maintenance, operation, and freight stations (Commercial Drone Professional, 2020). Besides, it will add classifications of the critical urban areas of Dubai with the purpose of creating a model for the distribution of ground and air service sites (“German Velocopter to operate autonomous air taxi in Dubai,” 2017). The initiative is the most recent component of Dubai’s Smart Autonomous Mobility Strategy, which aims at ensuring that one-fourth of all journeys in the emirate are included in the autonomous transportation network by 2030. Besides, the program is being backed by previous deals initiated by the Dubai authorities, such as the 2019 signing of an agreement between the Dubai Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) and the German Volocopter Company, which specializes in the production of Autonomous Air Vehicles, to launch the first air vehicle that would be capable of carrying two passengers (“German Velocopter to operate autonomous air taxi in Dubai,” 2017). The collaboration between the mentioned stakeholders has been developed on the basis of the opportunities that the drone systems sector presents.

Research Objectives and Questions

The purpose of this research is to identify solutions to the challenges of DCAA drone initiative implementation in Dubai, including technological, infrastructural, and business-related recommendations. Considering the barrier associated with commercial stakeholders being hesitant to invest in drone technologies, DCAA is looking to find a solution that can help move the project forward, primarily due to the expectations to receive significant income to the government and the GDP of Dubai. The main research question is “What are the proposed solutions to facilitate the investment of commercial stakeholders in the DCAA passenger drone project?” The supporting research questions are the following:

  1. What are the solutions to helping commercial stakeholders invest in drone technologies within the DCAA project in Dubai?
  2. What are the solutions to infrastructural network challenges associated with large-scale drone technology use within the DCAA project in Dubai?
  3. What are the solutions to technology challenges associated with large-scale drone technology use within the DCAA project in Dubai?
  4. What are the solutions to business challenges in the light of possible commercial benefits of large-scale drone technology use within the DCAA project in Dubai?

Justification of the Study

The importance of the study is linked to the fact that large-scale drone technologies are only starting to be used for commercial purposes and public transportation, calling for a comprehensive overview of the challenges and the potential solutions to the identified challenges. Besides, research on Dubai’s use of drones is relatively limited, with the majority of studies focusing on the security and military use of drones, as well as the use of drone technologies for delivery purposes. Considering the recent DCAA announcement regarding the implementation of the Dubai Sky Dome program focusing on drone travel, it is essential to unveil the solutions that the organization may implement to address the critical challenges related to the program.

Literature Review

Unmanned or remotely piloted aviation systems (UAS, RPAS, or drones) are technological systems developed for aerial operations without an onboard pilot. They have taken multiple formats and have been used for different purposes, ranging from military aviation to customer delivery, with many more forms anticipated to be developed (SESAR, 2016). The technology appears to be at an important stage of its development, with significant interest from industry stakeholders and policymakers (Boucher, 2014). The main barriers to the sector’s development are mainly regulatory because the technical capabilities of drones and related safety procedures are increasingly seen to have exceeded the tight restrictions imposed on airspace use (SESAR, 2016). To address the barrier, plans are under development intended to be integrated into the normal domestic airspace. Through rapid innovation, investment, and growth, which are expected to occur in the coming years, the restrictions are expected to be relaxed.

Non-military civil operations now present an essential niche for drone technologies, such as security and surveillance applications, such as border patrol and policing. Other areas in which governments have used drones include fire safety, forest management, air sampling, search and rescue, as well as infrastructural maintenance (Boucher, 2014). The core motive is improving the financial economy, with civil drones reaching the same or higher standards as human-crewed aircrafts but also achieving success more economically and efficiently. In addition, civil aviation drones present additional options aimed at performing operations in a dangerous or uncertain context, such as emergency responses with a lower risk to the personnel involved.

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When it comes to drone use for passenger transportation, the latest technologies have shown a high technical ability of transporting passengers within or between cities (Kellermann, Biehle, & Fischer, 2020). This shows not only a historical turning point in aviation but also a beginning of a new era where low-level airspace can become a ‘third dimension’ of transportation (Kellermann et al., 2020). According to the findings of Kellermann et al. (2020), most research on drone passenger transportation has focused on the economic benefits of the technology, followed by societal benefits, and then ecological and environmental benefits. However, to counter the benefits, the potential problems associated with passenger drone use, scholars have identified several issues, listed by relevance, such as legal aspects, ethical aspects, physical safety, social issues, environmental interrelations, as well as economic problems (Applin, 2016). During the implementation of passenger drone technologies, the anticipated barriers include technical aspects, legal issues, the lack of public acceptance for drones, as well as economic and infrastructural barriers.

To facilitate a practical implementation of passenger drone technology, researchers have cited the need for solutions of legal nature, such as the coordination of legislative processes that would incorporate both hard and soft law (Kellermann et al., 2020). Technological solutions should focus on creating approaches to solve issues related to navigation, communication, and automatization of drone technology. The solutions linked to public acceptance are also extensively represented in the research literature, focusing on suggestions to provide more public information and transparency processes (Kellermann et al., 2020). Solutions focusing on planning and infrastructure are concerned with recommendations for constructing and adapting the physical and digital infrastructure of drones.

The implementation of passenger drones in cities has been identified to potentially cause issues linked to societal change. Specifically, the widespread use of passenger and delivery drones may potentially divide urban society as to whether the “benefits of drones for some come with liabilities or concerns that impact others” (Applin, 2016, p. 72). As a result of that, activism against drones, specifically against the use of delivery drones, can potentially take place. Both Rao, Gopi, and Maione (2016) and Schlag (2013) pointed out that a permanent presence of drones in cities could adversely impact the current understandings of privacy. This may potentially get exacerbated if private organizations were to use the data that drones collect for the purposes of effective and smooth navigation (Jensen, 2016). Thus, the current implementation process of drone technologies, regardless of the context and location, is seen as a potential source of societal issues (Kellermann et al., 2020). The policymaking about general and transport drone use usually implies consultations with a small number of stakeholders, and there is a need to widen the circle of those involved (Boucher, 2014). In the US, the coordination between local, state, and federal government bodies is widening, although remains insufficient enough to be considered a model system (West et al., 2019). Nevertheless, there is a general consensus among scholars is that there is a lack of consultations with citizens or civic stakeholders (Boucher, 2014; West et al., 2019). Besides, it is important to consider the fact that the more substantial involvement of citizens in the decision-making regarding passenger and delivery drone use may go against the opinions of the already-established drone lobby.

The potential safety and security issues linked to passenger drone use are perceived to be a significant problem in the research literature, with scholars pointing out the dangers of crashes and malfunctions of either software and hardware (or both), which may be particularly problematic in urban areas (Stöcker et al., 2017; Department for Transport, 2016). Issue of criminal misuse of drones should also be considered, such as the possible smuggling of drugs and weapons as well as using drones for terrorist purposes (Clarke, 2014). Notably, the likelihood of using drones for criminal purposes has been estimated to be much higher than the possibility of combating crime with drones (Kellermann et al., 2020). To counter the challenges mentioned, researchers have recommended focusing on the reduction and prevention of drone-related safety issues (Department for Transport, 2016; Kellermann et al., 2020; Otto et al., 2018). For example, through the universal registration of drones that are put in operation, it is possible to gain a greater understanding of how to manage and prosecute incidents (Kellermann et al., 2020). Technical solutions to safety problems include the establishment of geo-fencing and no-fly zones, which will block specific buildings or infrastructures from being overflown (Kellermann et al., 2020).

The issues of ethics, privacy, and public acceptance of drone use present a major challenge to project implementation. Such issues stem from the possibility of drones violating personal privacy and private spaces, as well as the lack of understanding by the public as to how drones will be used and embed in their everyday lives. The proposed solutions to issues of privacy are concerned with both legal and technical strategies (Kellermann et al., 2020). Specifically, researchers suggest integrating preventive measures into drone designs, such as algorithms and software designs for real-time privacy assessments (Kellermann et al., 2020). Legal solutions to the issue include mandatory drone registrations, creating codes of conduct, as well as the extension of regulatory frameworks to include better rules of privacy protection (Kellermann et al., 2020). To facilitate an improved public awareness and acceptance of drone use within cities, more information and process transparency are needed, with data being considered a catalyst for public debate as well as a form of citizens’ legal empowerment (Otto et al., 2018). Participatory solutions were also cited as acceptable by offering opportunities for public consultations to reach a common understanding as to how urban airspaces are to be used in the future (Airbus, 2018). Therefore, the implementation of a passenger drone initiative within a context of a large city presents several socio-technical challenges that should be addressed.


The methodology of the study is a systematic review, which implies a critical and reproducible summary of the findings from available publications on the topic of passenger drone use in the urban context (Merkert & Bushell, 2020). In order to answer the identified research question, a content analysis based on the systematic literature review will be conducted. To access significant amounts of data, qualitative content analysis software will be used, which is expected to reduce the time and efforts necessary for the researcher to process all information and identify core themes. However, the software will not be the primary method of data analysis because of its limitation of emphasizing the quantity instead of the quality of data (Sapat et al., 2016). Therefore, the content analysis software will be used for the purpose of document organization, while the decisions on coding will be made by the researcher themselves.

To search for relevant publications on the use of passenger drones and solutions to the challenges of implementation, Google Scholar will be used primarily. Using the initial pool of articles on the identified topic, further publications to be included in the systematic review will be identified through the use of snowball sampling. Considering the main interest in exploring the use of passenger drones, all articles relater to drone surveillance, data acquisition, and military purposes will be excluded. The main areas of the systematic review’s focus will include passenger transportation, urban and transportation planning, technology assessments of drone use, as well as logistics. Considering the fact that there is an upward chronological trend in the coverage of drone technologies for passenger transportation purposes, more recent publications will be included. The estimated range of publications on the chosen topic is 2013 throughout 2021.

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The selected documents will be analyzed with the help of qualitative content analysis. Before the analysis, four initially determined categories were identified. They include stakeholder involvement in passenger drone projects, the potential commercial benefits of implementing passenger drone technologies, the barriers to implementation of drone technologies for passenger transportation by commercial stakeholders, as well as solutions to infrastructural and technology challenges. In addition, a set of contextualizing codes will be inductively created, including gaps in research, future areas for exploration, as well as stakeholder connections.


The research is concerned with exploring and analyzing available scholarly literature on the implementation of drone projects and does not include the perspectives of Dubai’s officials, the public, as well as commercial stakeholders. The focus on the qualitative methodology does not allow for conducting a statistical analysis regarding the correlation between the proposed solutions and project outcomes, which is a potential area for future research. In addition, the topic area remains new, and the boundaries between drone technologies used for transportation and other purposes remain ambiguous, and many studies do not fully separate the implementation scenarios, which causes confusion in data analysis as well as subsequent findings. Therefore, because the assessment of drone use can differ significantly within implementation scenarios, future research should include clarifications of the available conclusions to the respective use case. This could be instrumental in helping professionalize the discourse on drone use for commercial transportation services.


Both delivery drones and passenger transportation drones are among the most intensely discussed emerging technologies, which is likely to expand the mobility within a new dimension of the airspace of low-level travel. The DCAA project that the government of Dubai has recently announced intends on creating a new Dubai Sky Dome network, which aims to secure at least a quarter of all journeys being carried out by autonomous transport. There are high expectations of the local government that the initiative would bring sustainable income into the economy of the city, allowing for the development of further innovations, such as the use of drones for security purposes within the Dubai Shield initiative. Despite the expected commercial benefits, there are several barriers to project implementation, especially when it comes to persuading commercial stakeholders to invest in drone technologies. Thus, this research will focus on finding solutions to four barriers to the DCAA large-scale drone use project in Dubai. Through a systematic literature review, the researcher aims to reveal the key areas of recommendations concerning alleviating barriers to commercial drone use in a large city. Besides, the review will offer strong considerations and recognition of the risks and a realistic evaluation of realistic opportunities.


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Applin, S. (2016). Deliveries by drone: Obstacles and sociability. The Future of Drone Use. Web.

Boucher, P. (2014). Civil drones in society: Societal and ethics aspects of remotely piloted aircraft systems. Web.

Boucher, P. (2016). ‘You wouldn’t have your granny using them’: Drawing boundaries between acceptable and unacceptable applications of civil drones. Science and Engineering Ethics, 22, 1391-1418. Web.

Clarke, R. (2014). The regulation of civilian drones’ impacts on behavioural privacy. Computer Law & Security Review, 30(3), 286-305. Web.

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Commercial Drone Professional. (2020). Dubai’s new drone laws to pave way for commercial UAV usage. Web.

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German Volocopter to operate autonomous air taxi in Dubai. (2017). Web.

Godinho, V. (2020). Sheikh Mohammed’s new law to regulate all drone operations in Dubai. Web.

Jensen, O. (2016). Drone city – power, design and aerial mobility in the age of “smart cities.” Swiss Journal of Geography, 71, 67-75. Web.

Kellermann, R., Biehle, T., & Fischer, L. (2020). Drones for parcel and passenger transportation: A literature review. Transportation Research Interdisciplinary Perspectives, 4. Web.

Merkert, R., & Bushell, J. (2020). Managing the drone revolution: A systematic literature review into the current use of airborne drones and future strategic directions for their effective control. Journal of Air Transport Management, 89, 101929.

Otto, A., Agatz, N., Campbell, J., Golden, B., & Pesch, E. (2018). Optimization approaches for civil applications of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or aerial drones: A survey. Networks, 72(4), 411-458. Web.

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West, J., Klofstad, C., Uscinski, J., & Connolly, J. (2018). Citizen support for domestic drone use and regulation. American Politics Research, 47(1), 119-151. Web.

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