After a couple of years of deliberation and ending a long period of ambiguity and confusion, Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), the authority which regulates the civil aviation in India, has finally announced its policy for remotely piloted aircraft or drones. The policy has come into effect from December 1, 2018, the new policy defines what will be classified as remotely piloted aircraft, how they can be flown and the restrictions they will have to operate under.
Although the regulations released by the DGCA is a bit tougher than those followed in countries like USA and Canada, the policy has made clear that India is embracing the new age of drones with open arms. The framework put forward by DGCA will certainly encourage commercial usage of drones in various sectors including e-commerce, delivery, agriculture, industrial monitoring, photography and more. In fact, when it comes to formally adopting commercial usage of drones, India has even beaten some of the developed countries by releasing its framework and regulations before them.
A drone, in a technological context, is an unmanned aircraft. Drones are more formally known as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) or Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS). Essentially, a drone is a flying robot. The aircrafts may be remotely controlled or can fly autonomously through software-controlled flight plans in their embedded systems working in conjunction with onboard sensors and GPS.
In the recent past, UAVs were most often associated with the military, where they were used initially for anti-aircraft target practice, intelligence gathering and then, more controversially, as weapons platforms. Drones are now also used in a wide range of civilian roles ranging from search and rescue, surveillance, traffic monitoring, weather monitoring and firefighting to personal drones and business drone-based photography, as well as videography, agriculture and even delivery services.
A typical unmanned aircraft is made of light composite materials to reduce weight and increase maneuverability. This composite material strength allows military drones to cruise at extremely high altitudes. Drones are equipped with different state of the art technology such as infra-red cameras (military UAV), GPS and laser (military UAV). Drones are controlled by remote control system also sometimes referred to as ground cockpit.
An unmanned aerial vehicle system has two parts, the drone itself and the control system. The nose of the unmanned aerial vehicle is where all the sensors and navigational systems are present. The rest of the body is full of drone technology systems since there is no need for space to accommodate humans. The engineering materials used to build the drone are highly complex composites which can absorb vibration which decreases the noise produced. Many of the latest drones have dual Global Navigational Satellite Systems (GNSS) such as GPS and GLONASS.
The Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has defined drones as “an unmanned aircraft piloted from a remote pilot station”. The remotely piloted aircraft, its associated remote pilot station(s), command and control links and any other components forms a Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS).
Also, as per the civil aviation requirements – issued under the provisions of Rule 15A and Rule 133A of the Aircraft Rules, 1937 – these Remotely Piloted Aircrafts (RPAs) shall have a Unique Identification Number (UIN), Unmanned Aircraft Operator Permit (UAOP) and need to adhere to other operational requirements.
Note:- All drones, other than in the nano category, shall apply to DGCA for import clearance and based on that Directorate General of Foreign Trade shall issue license for import of RPAS.
Operators of civil drones will need to get a permit from the DGCA. There are exceptions for:
The DGCA has to issue the UAOP within seven working days provided all the documents are complete. This UAOP shall be valid for five years and non transferrable in nature. The policy also stipulates that RPAs shall be flown only by someone over 18 years of age, having passed 10th exam in English, and undergone ground/ practical training as approved by DGCA.
The basic operating procedure will restrict drone flights to the daytime only and that too within “Visual Line of Sight (VLOS)”. This applies to all categories. Also, along with other Standard operating procedures (SOPs), the DGCA has clarified that no remote pilot can operate more than one RPA at any given time. Plus, manned aircraft will get priority over RPAs. There can’t be any human or animal payloads, or anything hazardous. It cannot in any manner cause danger to people or property. An insurance blanket will be mandatory to cover third-party damages.
The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), in 2014, prohibited the use of drones in India for civil purposes. In April 2016, the DGCA released its initial draft guidelines for drone regulation followed by the updated draft guidelines in November 2017. Government of India’s Ministry of Civil aviation recently announced guidelines on drones which will come into effect from 1 December 2018
Red Zone: Flying not permitted
Yellow Zone: Controlled airspace — permission required before flying
Green Zone: Uncontrolled airspace — automatic permission
There are also specific regions around the country that have been marked as ‘No Drone Zones’.
The government has announced that it will soon come up with Drone Regulations 2.0. Key issues to be addressed there would include:
Although India does not have any concrete laws vis-i-vis Drones yet, there are various legal implications the existing laws may have on the operation of drones. Therefore, the legislators should also take into account different concerns, which may be presented due to the prospective regulations’ interaction with the existing legal framework, as set out below, and work to incorporate them into the necessary legislations.
As more and more advanced drones are invented with unique utilities, it opens up avenues for protection by the grant of patents. For example, Amazon, one of the leading e-commerce websites, has applied for a patent for its delivery system drone that delivers products to the customer’s doorstep within 30 minutes of the order. Boeing also obtained a patent for its “flying submarine” drone which is adaptable for both flight and water travel
Developments in technology, internet, cloud computing, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), and IoT have given rise to various tax issues globally. There has been significant litigation in this respect, especially in relation to characterization of income and withholding taxes. Another emerging area where such issues that is likely to come up, is the usage of drones.
Critics are of the opinion that since the Centre has not allowed the use of drones for delivery of goods and food items, it will hinder its usage in the e-commerce and logistics industry. Critics have also criticised the blanket restriction on the height limit of 400 feet. According to them, this would restrict the drones to amateur usage only and would hinder its use in mapping or surveying. Despite such criticism one must not fail to realise that the drones industry has a potential of providing an economic boost along with attracting global investments. The economic benefits also play into the need to innovate, potentially not only delivering better drones, but associated inventions as well. However, the rise of drones has presented several policy challenges in terms of personal privacy, public safety, international airspace, civil rights etc. Thus, the success of drones would depend on achieving a symbiotic integration of law, tax and civil liberties. As drones gain more popularity in the eyes of the public and garner support for potential markets, a timely institution of robust and flexible drone regulations would go a long way towards tapping into and building upon this opportunity. Taking lessons from history, different stakeholders should come together and work towards providing a comprehensive policy framework for drone regulation so as to ensure that a balance between innovation, progress and safety is adequately maintained.