Eyes in the Sky: The New Drone Policy in India

By: Pranay Bhattacharya


‘In the Age of the Almighty Computer, drones are the perfect warriors. They kill without remorse, obey without kidding around, and they never reveal the names of their masters.’

                                                                                                               Eduardo Galeano 

PREFACE

In August 2014, the experimental delivery of pizzas by Francesco’s Pizzeria, one of the giants in the financial capital of Mumbai, raised security concerns for executing the delivery using a remote-controlled quadcopter drone through the aerial route. The city police raised concerns over the trial delivery and claimed that such a delivery system does not have any governmental authorisation, and affirmed that prior permission must be taken by the Ministry of Civil Aviation before flying any such object in the sky.

MEANING OF REMOTELY PILOTED AIRCRAFT/DRONES

  • In the aviation sector, a Remotely Piloted Aircraft/Drone refers to an unpiloted aircraft or spacecraft, controlled from a remote station.

Fundamentally, a drone is a flying robot that can be controlled remotely and flown autonomously through software-controlled flight plans embedded in their systems, working in conjunction with onboard sensors and GPS. They are used for various military, governmental, commercial and recreational purposes. 

In India, unmanned aircraft or drones are regulated under the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (hereinafter ‘DGCA’).

THE NEW DRONE POLICY IN INDIA

Policy Framework: The Ministry of Civil Aviation, Government of India on August 28, 2018, released the Civil Aviation Requirement (hereinafter ‘CAR’), the Drone Policy, 2018 version 1.0 effective from December 1, 2018, which legalised the use of Remotely Piloted Aircraft (hereinafter ‘RPA’).  The policy provides a regulatory framework for requirements for operation of civil Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (hereinafter ‘RPAS’), for private and commercial purposes regulated under the provisions of Rule 15A and Rule 133A of the Aircraft Rules, 1937. 

Based on Digital Application: In furtherance, an application ‘Digital Sky’ has been developed by the Ministry of Civil Aviation that will help in easing the process of applying for permits and their registration before the launch of commercial unmanned aircraft.

Setting-up Task Force: To give more clarity to the present regulatory framework, the Government of India has set up a task force under the chairmanship of Minister of State, Mr. Jayant Sinha to amend the regulations existing under the CAR 1.0 and introduce a new draft note version 2.0 which will be in consonance with the Make in India project and focus majorly on Beyond Visual Line of Sight (hereinafter ‘B-VLOS’) operations.

CATEGORIES OF DRONES UNDER THE POLICY

Various categories of drone classified under the Drone Policy are: 

  1. Nano – Less than or equal to 250 grams;
  2. Micro – Greater than 250 grams and less than or equal to 2 kg;
  3. Small – Greater than 2 kg and less than or equal to 25 kg;
  4. Medium – Greater than 25 kg and less than or equal to 150 kg;
  5. Large – Greater than 150 kg.

Classifications of Drones Under the Policy

The new drone policy has been divided into 2 categories, namely:

  • Version 1.0: This version requires all drones weighing more than 250g to be registered with the Ministry of Civil Aviation under the ‘Digital Sky’ application. In case of non-registration, the operator would be criminally liable under Section 18.2 (Enforcement Action) which underlines “Breach of compliance to any of the requirements and falsification of records/ documents shall attract penal action including imposition of penalties as per applicable IPC sections (such as 287, 336, 337, 338 or any relevant section of IPC)”.

To ensure safety, the drones would be restricted within the vicinity of 400 feet distance i.e. the visual line of sight (B-VLOS), which will help in restricting the big commercial players. It will also hamper major infrastructure projects which require high altitude hovering such as rooftop inspection, disaster response coverage, etc.

  • Version 2.0: The new draft relaxes the distance clause and will allow flyers to soar  B-VLOS. It will widen the ambit of commercial players to fly beyond the human oversight and reach inaccessible areas for improved surveillance.

MAJOR PROVISIONS AND HIGHLIGHTS OF THE POLICY

  • The policy provides the guidelines that the CAR issued under the provisions of Rule 15A and Rule 133A of the Aircraft Rules, 1937 and lays down requirements for obtaining Unique Identification Number, Unmanned Aircraft Operator Permit and other operational requirements for RPAS.”
  • Further, the process requires initialisation, submission, application, registration of owners and pilots under the ministry to adopt the digital process. The process will be carried out by first of its kind, national unmanned traffic management application called ‘Digital Sky’, regulated by the Ministry of Civil Aviation and controlled by defence and air traffic controllers. 
  • In addition, the ministry provided directions enacted in the provision such as “No Drone Areas” at places like airports, military installations, international borders, etc. for privacy and other security concerns to prevent the illegal use of such drones.

CHALLENGES 

The technological development of drone is growing so rapidly that it is almost impossible to ascertain the social and political impact and the malicious outcomes such as security breach, military concerns, and terrorism at the ground level. Therefore, the major concern of the Indian lawmakers encompasses privacy and national security concerns while enforcing the policy at the ground level.  

The technological and digitalised sectors in India may face the following challenges while regulating the policy:

  1. Addressing the knowledge gap among the stakeholders.
  2. The problem of asymmetry in the technological information of the bureaucracy and the technology developmental industries.
  3. The agility to include the system into the act due to obsolete enactments and laws such as the Aircraft Act, 1934.
  4. The operators can misuse the policy due to the non-regulation of nano and micro categories in the policy version 1.0.

The engineering sector and human resource development which toils in the other countries may not work in India. The technologies at work depend upon the local context of a country in terms of its political, economic and social structure such as the growth of digitalised structure, population density, etc. One major setback is the population density of India as compared to the other countries. Therefore, using a drone as a technology for delivery may serve as a challenge for the organisations.

SUGGESTIONS TO OVERCOME THE CHALLENGES

The current policy challenges are required to be resolved by broadening the structure of the draft policy. Classifications of UAS should be done according to their software and hardware operations, other social aspects such as ease of doing business, training, and development of operators, simplifying the licensing system, etc. Apart from this, there should be a favourable environment for a large scale application of drones across the value chains and other organisations to keep up with the policy regulations and their execution at the ground level that may be economic in terms of time and money.

WHAT CAN BE ADOPTED? – A GLOBAL VIEWPOINT

To bring our drone system on par with the other countries, stringent laws are required. Countries like the US, Rwanda, Switzerland, and China, etc have built an exceptional conducive environment for drone delivery system. The capital invested is the driving force behind these innovations, which India needs to adopt for its technological expansion and growth to pave and cater to the demands of future companies which will further help government and private industries to compete at the global level.

In Rwanda, thousands of patients had benefited when samples were delivered through the drone technology, in the remotest of remote areas. In the last two decades, India’s health care sector has seen significant changes, but it lags way behind in providing health care to every citizen. The drone technology can be used in immunisation programmes such as Mission Indradhanush project to address the health issues. It will help in supplying vaccines to remote clinics to support public health campaigns and provide coverage to a maximum number of beneficiaries. Similarly, the service providers such as pharmacists will be able to use this technology to fight the growing cost of attrition rate. It can also be used in monitoring railway tracks, a step that could be used as a precautionary measure in the place of the conventional system of human inspectors, to prevent rail accidents and mishaps. 

Legalising drones could be the next big thing for disaster responses. It will play a pivotal role in community-centered approaches in relief programs in case of storms or earthquakes. It will help in the aftermath of disasters to assess damages to infrastructure and provide support much faster than the traditional ground-based rescue teams. 

When it comes to digitalisation, drones can play an important role in the insurance lifecycle. It can be used to gather and access data before disaster or roof damage inspection and help in preventive maintenance and to assess damage in terms of cost after an event has occurred. 

AUTHOR’S COMMENT: NEED FOR DRONE POLICY

In this era of rapid technological development, it is very difficult for the authorities to catch up with the technological developments to maintain consonance with the social order. The Drone policy will not only help in reducing the cost of compliance and technology but also help in other synergetic advancements such as the Internet of Things, 3D modeling, Artificial Intelligence. The virtual and augmented reality will open up the juncture of possibilities for organisations leveraging the use of drones. 

CONCLUSION

As per the reports released by FCCI and Ernst and Young named “Make in India for Unmanned Aircraft Systems”, the Indian drone market is expected to be valued around US$ 885.7 million, while the global market size might touch US$ 21.47 billion by 2021.

Be that as it may, the concept of drones is not new to India. Drones have been used by the military for security purposes for decades. But, the recent use by private and commercial players have raised major security concerns. Therefore, it was necessary to enact a global standard regulation for appropriate safeguards to prevent mishaps, accidents and maintain social order. 

The policy is a big step in the Indian AI and economic market. It will widen the scope and ambit by legalising aerial photography during weddings, asset maintenance, insurance, sporting events, and infrastructure survey.


(Pranay is currently a 3rd year undergraduate at Maharashtra National Law University, Aurangabad.)

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