Context: Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) and Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) have launched the GARUD portal (https://garud.civilaviation.gov.in) for providing fast track conditional exemptions to government agencies for COVID-19 related RPAS (Remotely Piloted Aircraft System)/ drone operations.
More on the news:
- GARUD is an acronym for ‘Government Authorisation for Relief Using Drones’.
- The designing process of the portal involves MoCA, DGCA, Airport Authority of India(AAI) and National Informatics Centre(NIC) involved in the process.
- The rules and regulations related to operation of Remotely Piloted Aircraft ("RPA") are covered under the Aircraft Rules, 1937 and Civil Aviation Requirements ("CAR") (under the same rules) issued by Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) in 2018.
The Conditional Exemption(if granted) is subject to the following conditions:
- RPA deployed by a Government entity for aerial surveillance, aerial photography and public announcements related to COVID-19.
- For other RPA activities, even if related to COVID-19 operations, permission shall be sought separately from MoCA and DGCA as per normal procedure.
- The Conditional Exemption shall be limited to battery-operated rotary-wing RPA only.
- The responsibility of safe operation of the RPA shall rest entirely with the Government.
- The Government Entity may operate its own RPA or engage a third-party RPA service provider ("RSP") to provide and/or operate the RPA.
- The Government Entity shall be responsible for the custody, security and access control of the RPA at all times and shall be responsible for any third-party liability in case of any damage caused by the RPA.
The RPA and its operation shall comply with the following conditions:
- The RPA shall have a Unique Identification Number (UIN) and/or Drone Acknowledgement Number (DAN) issued by DGCA;
- The RPA shall not exceed a total all-up weight of 25 kg;
- The RPA shall be equipped with an automatic return-to-home feature in case of any loss of the command-and-control link;
- The operation shall be restricted to a height of 200 feet Above Ground Limit (AGL);
- The RPA shall be operated within visual line of sight (VLOS) at all times;
- The RPA shall not pick, drop, spray or discharge any substance ;
- The RPA operation shall be restricted to a period between local sunrise and local sunset.
- No person shall act as a remote pilot for more than one RPA operation at any time.
- Powers of central government: The Government of India reserves the right to modify, withdraw or extend the provisions of this Public Notice, without providing any reasons whatsoever.
- Any violation of the provisions of this Public Notice shall make the Conditional Exemption null and void and shall lead to penal action as per applicable law.
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.
- 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.