Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) or Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), popularly known as Drone, primarily refers to an airborne system or an aircraft operated remotely by a human operator or autonomously by an onboard computer.
The Ministry of Civil Aviation, Government of India, released the National Drone Policy, 1.0 on August 27, 2018, and made flying drones in India legal. This landmark decision advanced towards a wider application of drone technology in India. While the new drone policy has infiltrated excitement in terms of new market opportunities and fascinating use cases – reduction of human intervention in sectors like aviation, gathering precise spatial information to enable city planning and administration and so on, such policies ought to have a precise safety and security framework to ensure they are not misused or exploited.
The drone policy 2.0 instituted a complex system of application and approval procedures, it does not mandate comprehensive monitoring of drones. It also fails to notice the result of free movement of smaller drones (Nano drones), which have been discharged from many of the regulatory procedures.
Classification Of Drones
The Directorate General of Civil Aviation( DGCA) has distinguished five different categories of drones on the basis of weight as shown below:
Nano - less than or equal to 250g (<=250g)
Micro - greater than 250g and less than or equal to 2g (250g-2kg)
Small - greater than 2kg and less than or equal to 25kg (2kg-25kg)
Medium - greater than 25kg and less than or equal to 150kg (25kg-150kg)
Large - greater than 150kg. (>150kg)
Required Drone Equipment in India
India has some prerequisites regarding the kinds of features a drone must necessarily have to be flown in India (excluding those in the Nano category). These indispensable requirements include:
· GPS location
· Fire-resistant Identification plate with UIN
· Return-to-home (RTH)
· Anti-collision strobe lights
· A flight controller with data-logging capability
· RF ID and SIM
· No Permission No Take off (NPNT)
· Self-landing feature
Rules for Flying a Drone in India
These are the most vital rulings to be followed for flying a drone in India.
· All drones must be registered and issued a Unique Identification Number (UIN) except for those in the Nano category.
· A permit is required for commercial drone operations (except for those in the Nano category and the Micro category).
· Drone pilots must retain a direct visual line of sight (VSOL) at all times while flying.
· Drones cannot be flown at a vertical height of more than 400 feet.
· Flying in the ‘green zones’ will only require notice of the time and location of the flights via the portal( Digital Sky Portal) or the app.
· Approval will be required for flying in ‘yellow zones’ i.e. Air Defence Clearance (ADC)/Flight Information Centre (FIC) number from Air Traffic Control is mandatory.
· Drones cannot be flown in areas specified as “No Fly Zones” or the ‘red zones’ which includes airspace near international borders, near airports, etc.
Highlights of the Policy
· The government has come up with a national Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) called the “Digital Sky Platform”. A drone operator can obtain all the necessary paperwork required from here.
· India has also come up with the ‘No Permission- No Take off’ (NPNT) clause. This means that the drone needs to be configured with a special software and/or hardware in a way that unless the regulatory permit is given through Digital Sky Platform, the drone cannot take-off.
· Following the registration, companies will obtain UIN (unique identification number) and UAOP (unmanned aircraft operator permit) from DGCA so that they can fly drones legally.
· For obtaining UIN, any applicant who is eligible may file an application along with certain requisite documents and provide information like purpose of operation, weight of compatible payload, certificate of compliance with NPTP, security clearances through the Digital Sky Platform.
· Except for Nano category RPA’s and Micro category RPA’s, all other civil RPA operators require UAOP. The UAOP will be issued by the DGCA within seven working days provided all the documents are complete. The UAOP thus issued will be valid for a term of 5 years and shall be non-transferable.
· The fees payable by an applicant for UIN and UAOP are as follows-
a. for grant of UIN – Rs 1,000
b. for a grant of UAOP – Rs 25,000
c. for renewal of UAOP – Rs 10,000
· One pilot, one drone - which means that a pilot can only operate one drone at a time.
· To get permission to fly, RPAS (Remotely Piloted Air System) operators or remote pilots will have to file a flight plan.
· The pilot must not be a minor( at least 18 years old) and he needs to undergo training before the UAOP is issued.
Penalties For Non-Compliance With The Laws And Regulations Governing Drones
In the case of violation of the CAR(Civil Aviation Rules), the following penalties may be imposed
· An operator’s unique identification number (UIN) or unmanned aircraft operator permit (UOAP) may be revoked or canceled.
Breach of compliance to any of the rules laid down in CAR or misrepresentation of records or documents may attract penal action, as per the Indian Penal Code 1860:
· Section 287: Negligent conduct with respect to machinery (shall be punished of either with imprisonment of six months or a fine which may extend to one thousand rupees, or both)
· Section 336: Act endangering life or personal safety of others (shall be punished of either with an imprisonment of three months or a fine which may extend to two hundred and fifty rupees, or both);
· Section 337: Causing hurt by an act endangering the life or personal safety of others (shall be punished of either with imprisonment of six months or a fine which may extend to five hundred rupees or both);
· Section 338: Causing grievous hurt by an act endangering the life or personal safety of others (shall be punished of either with an imprisonment of two years or a fine which may extend to one thousand rupees or both); or
· any other relevant section of the IPC.
Penalty for infringement or failure to comply with any direction issued under Rule 133A of the Aircraft Rules 1939 (the rule under which CARs are issued),
· Punishable to the extent of imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or a fine not exceeding 200,000 rupees or both.
Recent developments regarding drones
The widening possibilities for which UAVs can be used thanks to their flexible and rapidly evolving software and hardware, has led to their employment in a variety of fields. Some examples are:
1. A specialized force constituted “for the purpose of specialist response to a threatening disaster situation or disaster” has been using UAS for locating victims of natural disasters.
2. Indian Railways is using UAS for inspection and 3D mapping to bring to life its vision of a dedicated freight corridor with a network of 3,360 km. The entire corridor will be mapped using UAS technology.
3. In November 2019, Coal India used drones to check illegal mining and pilferage, a system which it had already tested in a pilot project.
4. An agency of the Government of India, has employed the use of drones for 3D digital mapping for Detailed Project Report (DPR) for road widening of the Raebareli – Allahabad Highway.
5. During the current pandemic breakout, the government is using drones for the following purposes:
6. Surveillance ( to keep a check over a large area without physical engagement)
7. Broadcast (promote social distancing and curbing the spread of the virus)
8.Spraying disinfectant (To disinfect public spaces and prevent the further spread of COVID-19)
9. Medicine and grocery deliveries (Yet not implemented in India but in other countries like China, the US, Australia)
The usage of UAVs is going to increase as the technology itself gets more advanced as well as accessible to the average consumer. Today, drones are already employed by those who can afford them to blog, vlog, and create documents, both for personal and business use. In the current scenario, governments and large private companies like Amazon are exploring the possibilities drones offer in terms of recon, surveying, deliveries, and so forth. It will grow rapidly and become vital components of fields such as transport, security, mapping and numerous other productive purposes.
Amity Law School, Noida
(Images used for representative purpose only)