The article on Regulation of Drones in India aims to discuss various legislative regulations and restrictions on the use of drones.
Drones are also termed as Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) or Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS).
Drones have replaced numerous services in the developed nations like the United States of America, United Arab Emirates etc. Food delivery without human contact was possible in many highly infested areas of such Richie rich nations using drone technology.
These changes highlight the positive aspects of technology, however, without regulations, the same technology can be destructive in the wrong hands. Drones are not just used for the provision of consumer services but in military and commercial activities as well.
Military in India uses drones for tracking movement of enemies, border patrols, search and rescue missions and emergency services.
In the late 1990s, as the hunt for Osama bin Laden intensified, Afghanistan became the experimental ground for the US developed armed drones. However, it was only after the 9/11 terrorists attack in the US, Washington sanctioned the use of drones. As former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Michael Hayden once wrote- “Targeted Killing using drones have become part of America way of war”.
They are also used for areal mapping and monitoring purposes. On the whole, drones are used for education, security, defence, media coverage and is present in almost all facets of activities that make it easy for further processing and decision making.
International Commercial Drone Regulations
With the evolution of UAVs, countries across the world are struggling to keep up with new uses, and technology. Although regulations differ from country to country, the elements of regulation are largely uniform with imposing restrictions on drone mass, drone altitude, drone use, and pilot license.
Regulations in a country are often governed by the question of if a country favours the promotion of new technology or a safety-first approach.
The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the United Nation’s aviation agency is the lead platform in the international sphere of governance of drones. In 2011, the ICAO issued Circular 328 and subsequently developed the Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (PRAS) Manual.
In Circular 328, the ICAO called upon the countries to provide comments for drone applications and usefulness to develop a fundamental and uniform international regulatory framework through Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs) with supporting Procedures for Air Navigation Services (PANS) and guidance material, to underpin the routine operation of UAS throughout the world in a safe, harmonized and seamless manner comparable to that of manned operations.
Further, drones are actively being used by the United Nations, for example, the United Nations Children’s Fund partnered with the Malawian government and launched Africa’s first humanitarian drone testing corridor to test the utility of UAVs in generating maps to monitor disasters, extend internet services or cell phone signals and assist in the transport of important supplies.
Indian Scenario | Regulation of Drones in India
One of the first Indian notifications on the subject came in the form of a Public Notice issued by the Office of the Director-General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), India’s civil aviation regulator, on 7th October 2014.
The document was useful for informing the potential operator that the civil operations of UAS will require approval from the Airport Authority of India, Defence, Ministry of Home Affairs, and other concerned authorities besides the DGCA.
Two years later, the DGCA released a set of draft guidelines in 2016 on the use of drones for civilian or recreational purposes. The DGCA invited comments on this circular from various stakeholders for a period of 21 days as decided by the Ministry of Civil Aviation.
After a year and a half of inaction on the previous guidelines, in October 2017 the DGCA released a new set of guidelines to finalize them by end of the month.
According to the 2016 guidelines only Mini and Macro drones needed to be flown with VLOS.
2017 regulations stipulated that all UAVs, irrespective of weight category are to be flown maintaining Visual Line of Sight (VLOS).
However, 2017 guidelines still fail to cover issues such as legal liability and import controls and did not account for a mechanism ensuring the safe operations of drones at low altitudes, nor did they have provisions for ensuring that there is no interference by two drones in each other’s operations.
According to the guidelines, drone operators will need to obtain a Unique Identification Number (UIN) for their UAV and security clearance from the Ministry of Home Affairs before they can get their drone in the air. The operator will also have to provide a copy of the flight manual and maintenance guidelines as issued by the manufacturers as well as verification proofs.
In 2018, the DCGA, by way of Civil Aviation Requirements issued guidelines for legalizing and regulating the operation of drones for civil use in India. To liberalize the regime further and tap the potential uses of drones especially for commercial purposes, the Ministry of Civil Aviation constituted a drone task force under the chairmanship of Hon’ble Minister of State for Civil Aviation.
Subsequently, several new initiatives were launched by the authorities focused on capacity building of the drone ecosystem in 2019 and this trend continued in 2020.
Presently, there are new draft rules currently being considered. These include the possibility of operations Beyond the Visual Line of Sight. They also include the potential creation of drone ports. Importantly, the draft rules also bring drone traders into the group of stakeholders who will need accreditation from the DGCA.
The Unmanned Aircraft System Rules, 2021 have mentioned and disappointed the likes of Zomato, Swiggy, Dunzo and many other startups that have been waiting for approval to make deliveries through unmanned drones.
The drone rules, 2021 has also listed a set of essential equipment without which any drone will be deemed unfit to fly. They include:
- Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) receiver(s) for horizontal and vertical position fixing
- Autonomous Flight Termination System or Return To Home (RTH) option
- Geo-fencing capability
- Flashing anti-collision strobe lights
- Flight controller
- Flight data logging capability
- No Permission – No Takeoff (NPNT) compliant
- Secondary Surveillance Radar (SSR) transponder (if intended to operate beyond 400 feet/120 m AGL)
- Reliable Command and Control Link
- Real-time tracking system
- Barometric equipment with capability for remote subscale setting
- Detect and Avoid (if intended to operate beyond 400 feet/120 m AGL)
- Manufacturer Serial Number
- Fire-resistant identification plate for engraving the UIN
- A two-way communication system (if intended to operate beyond 400 feet/120 m AGL)
- 360 degrees collision avoidance system
Nano drones that weigh below 250 grams have been kept out of most of these essential measures. Microdrones, that are intended to fly within 400 ft range are not required to have secondary surveillance radar (SSR) transponder, reliable command and control link and two-way communication system.
Moreover, if any liability arises because of any damage to a person or property, the drone operator is held accountable.
Some of the no flying zones established are:
- Within a distance of 5 km from the perimeter of international airports at Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata, Bengaluru, and Hyderabad
- Within a distance of 3 km from the perimeter of any civil, private, or defence airports
- Within 25 km from the international border which includes Line of Control (LoC), Line of Actual Control (LAC), and Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL)
- Within 3 km from the perimeter of military installations/facilities without clearance
- Within 5 km radius from Vijay Chowk in Delhi
- Within 2 km from the perimeter of strategic locations/vital installations notified by the Ministry of Home Affairs, unless clearance is obtained
- Within a 3 km radius of State Secretariat Complex in State Capitals
- Beyond 500 mt (horizontal) into the sea from the coastline, provided the location of the ground station is on a fixed platform on land
- From a moving vehicle or ship or any kind of makeshift floating platforms
- Over eco-sensitive zones around National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries without prior permission from the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change
- Within permanent or temporary Prohibited, Restricted and Danger Areas.
Several other legislations with regards to obtaining a license, swarm drone operation, indoor operation, data security etc have also been provided in the act.
Strict penalties are devised concerning the violation of the provisions. Except for Nano category drones, any individual who operates a drone without a valid license or permit shall have to pay a fine of INR 25,000. Flying over no-operation zones will attract a fine of INR 50,000. Drone flying without valid third-party insurance will be subject to a fine of INR 10,000.
There are various moral, ethical and technical issues concerning the use of drones for both commercial and non-commercial activities. Technology keeps changing so does the laws. Therefore there must a consistency between the both and governments should try their best to bring about a balance through legislation by levying the benefits and reducing the possible threats.
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