How Far Is India From Flying Drones?
A drone is flown during a property inspection following Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Texas. (Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg)

How Far Is India From Flying Drones?

BloombergQuintOpinion

Artificial Intelligence is the future of today’s world. Drones, technically known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), are one such form of artificial intelligence which shall change the course of technology and the world soon. Drone technology has immense potential, not only for technological and economic growth globally but also for social change and impact.

Recently, the Chinese e-commerce giant, Alibaba announced the delivery of packages over water to islands around China using drones. Reportedly, the drones deployed took nine minutes to make the five-kilometre crossing. That’s the potential drones have; they will save time and logistics/transportation costs for businesses. Not only for commercial use, drones can be used for traffic control, defence, and military surveillance, construction surveillance, providing emergency medical and food supplies, agriculture, disaster management, etc.

In spite of their immense potential, the use of drones has been banned in India.

In October 2014, the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) had disallowed use of drones in India due to privacy and security threats posed by them and in the absence of a regulatory framework governing them. Given the industry-wide criticism, in April 2016, for the first time, the Government of India proposed draft guidelines for regulating drones, however, the same did not formalise. With certain further changes, on November 1, 2017, the Ministry of Civil Aviation, released the draft regulations or civil aviation requirements (CARs) for permitting operation of civil remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) systems/drones. The draft CARs were open to public and other stakeholders’ comments for a month, after which the government will release the final regulations expected soon.

With the CARs, drones have been formally defined as unmanned aircraft operated with no pilot on board and operated from a remotely piloted station. The draft CARs have categorised RPAs/drones based on maximum take-off weight, in following categories:

  • Nano (less than or equal to 250 grams),
  • Micro (greater than 250 grams and less than or equal to 2 kilograms),
  • Mini (greater than 2 kilograms and less than or equal to 25 kilograms),
  • Small (greater than 25 kilograms and less than or equal to 150 kilograms), and
  • Large (greater than 150 kilograms).
All RPAs/drones, unless exempted, will need a Unique Identification Number (UIN) from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation.

Import or acquisition of RPAs will also need permission from the DGCA. Nano category drones that fly up to 50 feet above ground, along with those owned and operated by Government security agencies, will not need UIN.

Owing to the security and privacy concerns, the draft CAR provides that drones will primarily be registered by Indian entities (with Chairman and at least two-thirds of the board of directors being citizens of India and whose substantial ownership and effective control is vested with Indian nationals) or Indian citizens or Government owned companies. Though foreign ownership or control is not permitted as yet, a foreign company will be able to license the technology to any Indian entity. Since there are foreign ownership and control restrictions, this would restrict entry of foreign players in this segment.

In addition to UIN, all civil RPAs, unless exempted (such as nano and micro drones flying below 50 feet and 200 feet respectively), will also need an unmanned aircraft operator permit (UAOP).

These would also need clearance from the Ministry of Home Affairs. In addition, permission from Department of Telecommunications for all frequencies used in RPA operations, verification of character and antecedents of the remote pilot from local police office, etc. will also be required. There are multiple regulatory agencies proposed for clearance as well as regulating the operation of drones, which could lead to regulatory delays and excessive regulation.

A single regulatory body would have eased the process for operating drones in India. 

Unlike the draft regulations proposed in April 2016, the CAR have now proposed no-drone-zones / restricted areas for operation of drones e.g. near airports, border, international borders/line of control, etc. Further, all RPAs can operate only during the day, within visual line of sight only and below 200 feet. The operator/owner will be responsible for safety, security and access control of the RPAs. In spite of some of these measures proposed, the regulations do not delve deep into the protection of privacy issues, which remains a key concern for permitting drones in the absence of an adequate data privacy regime in India. There are also restrictions on dropping of substances using drones, which could mean that deliveries through drones may still not be a reality anytime soon. More clarity is required in this aspect.

In spite of some of the issues remaining unaddressed, the draft CAR proposed by the Government of India is a welcome step towards regulating drones in India, which so far have been banned. The government has studied regulations in other jurisdictions and thereafter proposed the new norms with a view to safeguarding privacy and security concerns and encourage ease of doing business in India with drone technology. This could provide a much-needed boost to the ‘Make in India’ campaign of the government. In fact, Amazon has already filed a patent for deploying drones for delivery and other services in India. More players will follow soon with the new regulatory framework being in place. We will have to wait and watch until the fine prints of final regulations are released if some of these concerns are addressed. Since the technology is new, the government may introduce restrictions initially and relax the regime over a period of time.

Ketan Kothari is Director, and Shweta Dwivedi is Principal Associate at Khaitan & Co.

The views expressed here are those of the authors’ and do not necessarily represent the views of Bloomberg Quint or its editorial team.

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