Context: The Centre has notified draft rules prohibiting “carriage of payload” as well as “dropping of articles” by unmanned aerial vehicles.
More about the news
- The draft rules by the Centre come 18 months after it mandated that drone owners will have to get their equipment registered with the DGCA and allowed their use within the visual range.
- Recently, the DGCA permitted food startups like Zomato and Swiggy to conduct trials for drones beyond the visual line of sight (BVLOS).
- A DGCA official explained that trials for these 13 companies could take up to six months to conclude. Each of these companies will then submit a report to the DGCA, which will then examine the feasibility of remote operations of drones.
What is BVLOS and why is it important for the drone industry?
- Countries around the world are amending their drone policies so that they can allow unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to fly Beyond Visual Line of Sight for maximum efficiency.
- Unlike VLOS flights, which are operated within the pilot’s line of sight, BVLOS flights are flown beyond the visual range. BVLOS capabilities enable a drone to cover far greater distances.
- Drones have become ideal in inaccessible situations because of their capabilities for Vertical Takeoff and Landing Capability (VTOL), and Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS.
Benefits of BVLOS
- BVLOS allows a drone to collect more data in fewer deployments.
- Along with it deploying a drone for BVLOS costs less than several traditional methods such as manned helicopters and airplanes.
- The lower altitude of drone flight makes them ideal for high-resolution data collection.
- In many cases, drones prevent humans from being placed in a dangerous situation, either removing them from an aircraft or a hazardous area outside VLOS.
Concerns: The main concern is uncontrolled flying that puts lives and vital infrastructure in danger. The agency must be assured that drones sharing the sky with airplanes will not result in midair collisions, and that the risk of damage to people and property on the ground is mitigated.
About the unmanned Aircraft System Rules, 2020: The Ministry of Civil Aviation notified the draft rules, for importing, manufacturing and owning drones as well as for drone ports, or airports for drones. It has invited comments from stakeholders within 30 days, following which the rules will be finalised.
- No payload: It states that no unmanned aircraft shall carry any payload, unless specified by the Director General of DGCA.
- No droppings: Neither shall a person “drop or project or cause or permit to be dropped or projected from a UAS (unmanned aircraft system) in motion anything,” except when specified.
Permission for trials: A separate set of rules which will enable use of drones for e-commerce or delivering medical supplies may take at least a year as regulatory clearances are slow and tardy.
Need to align drone policy
- The Drone Ecosystem Policy Roadmap highlights a proactive stand by our policy makers towards adopting latest uses and in attempting to address frontier issues that are likely to emerge.
- Seven key highlights from the policy roadmap include: beyond Visual Line of Sight Operations (BVLOS); autonomous operations; no permission no takeoff (NPNT); drone corridors; insurance; drone ports, digital sky service providers and UAS traffic management.
The learnings from emergency responses across the world to Covid-19 will enable us to revisit the policy roadmap and introduce a few changes for faster adoption of drone technology by government agencies providing emergency services.
National Drone Policy, 2018(Ministry of Civil Aviation)
The new policy defines what will be classified as remotely piloted aircraft(RPA), how they can be flown and the restrictions they will have to operate under.
What are drones?
- The DGCA has defined RPA 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(CAR) – issued under the provisions of the Aircraft Rules, 1937 – these RPAs will need a Unique Identification Number (UIN), Unmanned Aircraft Operator Permit (UAOP) and need to adhere to other operational requirements.
Classification by DGCA:
- Nano : Less than or equal to 250 grams.
- Micro : From 250 grams to 2kg.
- Small : From 2kg to 25kg.
- Medium : From 25kg to 150kg.
- Large : Greater than 150kg.
Import clearance: 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.
Unmanned Aircraft Operator Permit (UAOP):
Operators of civil drones will need to get a permit from the DGCA. There are exceptions for:
- Nano RPA operating below 50 feet (15 m) in uncontrolled airspace / enclosed premises.
- Micro RPA operating below 200 feet (60 m) in uncontrolled airspace / enclosed premises – but will need to inform local police 24 hours prior.
- RPA owned and operated by NTRO, ARC and Central Intelligence Agencies but after intimating local police.
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 not transferable. 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.
How can drones be operated in India?
- 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 SOPs, the DGCA has clarified that no remote pilot can operate more than one RPA at any time. Plus, manned aircraft will also get priority.
- 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 will be mandatory to cover third-party damage.
Restrictions in place for drones in India:
- RPAs cannot be flown within 5km of the perimeters of the airports in Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata, Bengaluru and Hyderabad and within 3km from the perimeter of any other airport.
- It cannot fly within “permanent or temporary Prohibited, Restricted and Danger Areas” and within 25km from international border which includes the Line of Control (LoC), Line of Actual Control (LAC) and Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL).
- It cannot fly beyond 500 m into sea from the coast line and within 3 km from the perimeter of military installations.
- It also cannot fly within a 5 km radius of the Vijay Chowk in Delhi, within 2 km from the perimeter of strategic locations/ vital installations notified by the Ministry of Home Affairs and within 3 km from the radius of State Secretariat Complexes.
- It also cannot be operated from a mobile platform such as a moving vehicle, ship or aircraft.
- Eco-sensitive zones around National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries are off-limits without prior permission.
Violations will be acted on under relevant sections of the IPC and the Aircraft Act 1934.
- High costs: Though the current regulations make it legal for non-governmental agencies, organisations and individuals to use UAVs, the high costs put them beyond the reach of NGOs and rural communities.
- Too many permissions: To deploy drones at present, government agencies like the fire department, police and NDMA need to take permission from the DGCA and AAI 24 hours in advance under the no permission no take-off (NPNT) regulation.
- Long list of non-permitted activities: For instance,functional drone-based delivery is not allowed, because it requires the operator to conduct Beyond Visual Line of Site(BVLOS) operations and for the drone itself to release payloads while in flight, which is not permitted.
- Lacking monitoring mechanism: While the new drone policy establishes an intricate system of application and approval procedures, it is lacking when it comes to thorough monitoring of drones.
- Exemptions to small drones: It also ignores the implications of free movement of smaller drones, which have been exempted from many of the regulatory procedures.
Drone Policy 2.0: The Ministry of Civil Aviation has constituted a task-force to give recommendation on the Drone Policy 2.0. Drone 2.0 framework for RPAS are expected to include
- Regulatory architecture for autonomous flying.
- Delivery via drones.
- Beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) flights.