Drones: A threat or Growing Market? - Seeker's Thoughts

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Tuesday, 4 September 2018

Drones: A threat or Growing Market?

Drones and Regulations
Unmanned remotely piloted aircrafts known as drones. Only handful companies, law enforcement agencies are allowed to use drones. The drones are regulated under DGCA – Director General of Civil Aviation. 

What is the need of regulatory framework?
The Indian government has set up a regulatory framework for drone operations, including commercial use. It will come into force from December 1, 2018.
How will it be done?
The civil aviation requirements, notified by the directorate general of civil aviation (DGCA), mandate obtaining of an Unique Identification Number (UIN) and Unmanned Aircraft Operator Permit (UAOP) for flying of drones, with exemptions in certain cases.
Under the new framework, civilian users seeking UIN/UAOP have to be Indian citizens.

 What about International Companies?
1.       Companies seeking permits for commercial use must be registered in India, with two-thirds of the board members, including the chairman, being Indian nationals.
2.      Their primary place of business must be India and “substantial ownership”—and this has not been defined—must be resting with Indian nationals.
3.      There is marginal space for companies registered abroad—those that are leasing drones to companies that meet the earlier-mentioned norms may apply for UIN and UAOP.
4.      All drones operating over de licensed frequency bands must get clearance from the department of telecom.
5.      Imported models—India is one of the largest importers of drones—barring those in the lowest weight category, as per the DGCA classification, must get an import clearance from the DGCA, and subsequently, an import licence from the directorate general of foreign trade.
6.      Further, barring low-flying, low-weight drones, all others must get home ministry clearance.

Criticism- The government must liberalize some provisions in the new framework to encourage commercial usage.
a.      If a business has to go through so many regulations, it must then navigate a complex web of clearances.
b.      The ban on substance discharge without prior permission means that India won’t see the same farm applications drones are being put to in other countries. For example- France where fertilizer and pesticide application over cropped area is carried out via drones.
c.       Similarly, requiring police clearance for every planned flight 24 hours prior to flight will prove a regulatory headache for delivery services.
d.      The government needs to create the right ecosystem for drone operations to add to the economy’s automation dividend.

Few more facts- There are some reasonable restrictions—buffer zone and no-fly restrictions around airports and certain government facilities, including military and strategic ones. Drones are also not allowed to fly above the obstacle limitation surfaces of an operational aerodrome—this has been prescribed to avoid interference with the flight plan of airlines.
There are necessary, training compliance for operators, apart from flight plan compliances.
But, mandating all drones must fly within the visual line of sight of the remote pilot—the US too requires this—placing explicit restrictions on dropping and discharging substances without prior permission, the numerous and complicated police approval requirements, etc, will all prove to be hurdles for efficient commercial application.