Technology affects in positive ways yet can also be disruptive. Such is Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) which is commonly known as Drone. Drones are useful for military, commercial, civilian and even in humanitarian activities but their unregulated use carries a serious consequence that need to be addressed urgently. Despite use of drones in India, there are major policy gaps in the policy framework. Essentially, a drone is a flying robot that can be remotely controlled or fly autonomously through software-controlled flight plans in their embedded systems, working in conjunction with onboard sensors and GPS.
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. While drones serve a variety of purposes, such as recreational, photography, commercial and military, their two basic functions are flight and navigation.
The government has already set some drone laws and regulations for its flying and has been working on another set of these laws ( drone regulations 2.0 ). A set of rules notified by the government aims to regulate the production, import, trade, ownership, establishment of the drone ports (airports for drones) and operation of unmanned aircraft systems. It also seeks to create a framework for drones use by businesses.
These laws include
- The airspace has been partitioned into Red Zone (flying not permitted), Yellow Zone (controlled airspace), and Green Zone (automatic permission). The restricted locations are airports, near international border, near coast line, state secretariat complexes strategic locations, military installations.
- An authorised manufacturer or importer of drones can sell its devices only to an individual or entity approved by the aviation regulator Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA).
- Only Nano class drones will be allowed to operate in India in general and only a qualified remote pilot will be permitted to operate heavier drones.
- The DGCA will have the powers to inspect a UAS manufacturing or maintenance facility before granting any authorisation under these rules.
- No UAS shall operate in India unless there is in existence a valid third party insurance policy to cover the liability that may arise on account of a mishap involving such UAS.
- For owning and using a drone, one has to be at least 18 years old.
- In the case of companies, the requirement is that their main place of business has to be in India and the chairman and at least two thirds of directors have to be Indian citizens.
- Also, businesses operating drones have to be substantially owned and effectively controlled by Indian nationals.
- Foreigners currently are not allowed to fly drones in India. For commercial purpose they are required to lease the drone to an Indian entity that in turn supports to acquire UIN and UAOP from DGCA.
- Drone pilots must maintain a visual line of sight while flying.
Any person seeking to obtain a license for providing UAS Traffic Management Service (“UTM Service”) will have to apply to the DGCA for a license, which will be valid for a period of up to 5 years and may be renewed for another 5 years.
There are various questions concerning ethics, regulation and implementation that exist in the domain of drones. These questions need to be carefully addressed, keeping in mind the extant legal and moral principles and adapting them to the rapid technological advances to create an effective governance regime for UAVs in India. India must also examine prevailing policy mechanisms in other countries to adopt their best practices as it formalises its regulatory framework. However, a point to be underlined is that guidelines alone are not sufficient; key is ensuring implementation and compliance.
This would essentially mean that guidelines and circulars issued by governments and multilateral agencies like ICAO need to be converted into legal and policy instruments that would have a binding effect on governments. However, standards and norms of responsible behaviour relating to drones are essential first steps in this regard.
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