Singapore Air Show

India Struggles with Drone Issues

 - February 17, 2016, 11:05 PM

The Indian government is considering comprehensive Civil Aviation Requirements to regulate small, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs, or “drones”), following recent incidents of their flying close to the airport, and Indian parliament. Guidelines could include registration, tracking, implementation, and penalties for offenders.

Drones are “being discussed internally and the Directorate General of Civil Aviation has to work on this [further],” said to R.N. Choubey, Secretary of the Ministry of Civil Aviation, speaking to AIN. He acknowledged that the ministry was facing “technical challenges like tracking…how does one track recreational drones? Tracking costs money and increases the weight of a drone. It needs to be monitored, and tracking devices will have to be put across the country,” he added.

Administrative issues are getting in the way, too, regarding which authority gives permission for drones to fly. “We are of the view that it should be the responsibility of the local police station to give permission,” said Choubey. However, this has raised issues of jurisdiction and airspace.

“Even the U.S. is struggling with similar issues. While we are looking at international best practice, DGCA and MOCA are working [with] the Ministry of Home Affairs, which is responsible for homeland security, to allow civilian use of drones without a security component. “We are struggling,” admitted Choubey. However, he said clearly: “This is a transition phase. If somebody does something dangerous, we have our standard operating procedures.”

Presently, private civilian use is not permitted until technical solutions are found. “We have restricted use of civilian drones to government purposes only,” said Choubey. With no regulations, issues remain undefined and left unaddressed. “The problem with an unregulated market is there will be irresponsible usage and a potential threat to public safety, as we have seen of late. We are looking forward to the government coming up with the regulations,” said Shinil Shekhar, co-founder of Mumbai-based Airpix, a specialist in aerial surveys and inspections using both multi-rotor and fixed-wing drones.

In agreement with FAA’s guidelines that require over drones weighing more than around 250g (half a pound) to be registered, Shekhar said: “Weight restriction indirectly keeps a check on the kind of payloads you can carry and the range of the equipment.

“Issues will remain with any regulation. So, the best way is to formulate a set of regulations, implement them and then keep making appropriate changes.” Registration of equipment, permissions based on the merit of the project, and skill of the operator could be considered while formulating the regulations, he added.

Drones have been used in India for various purposes, including oil-rig inspections; checking faults in power lines and around wind farms; monitoring floods and earthquake zones; and by police during riots and large gatherings, as well as by security forces. Bollywood films use drones for aerial photography, and they are commonly used to film weddings.

Unusually, manufacturing and importing drones in India requires a license. However, global brands Silverlit, Toyhouse and DJI are available online and continue to be sold despite the DGCA ban. Recently, Chinese-owned DJI, in a statement given to an Indian daily publication, acknowledged it was possible “to buy from our website or via local sellers.”

Already, various ministries are planning to draw on the benefits of drone technology. The ministry of agriculture announced a pilot project using drone-based imaging to improve yield estimates and to better plan “crop cutting experiments,” which are needed for crop insurance programs. For these, however, tracking the drones will be required.

Air traffic control for drones is also being developed. U.S. UAV manufacturer PrecisionHawk recently announced a Low Altitude Tracking and Avoidance System (LATAS) that it is building in collaboration with the FAA, NASA and other partners for a traffic management system for UAVs. LATAS will show pilots of manned aircraft where UAVs are in the airspace, before they become a safety hazard.

As an automated air traffic control system for UAVs, LATAS can provide flight planning, tracking and avoidance for every drone in the sky using real-time flight data transmitted on a worldwide cellular network.

Technology partner and Sister Company of PH, India-based Webonise, has started work on LATAS by simulating drones in a virtual environment, said Atul Jadhav, v-p. The simulation includes pushing data to a cloud, checking out low flying inflight obstacles such as birds and helicopters, and testing. “This is where we can help India’s DGCA with our UTM,” Jadhav said. LATAS’s ability to change systems online can tag along with any UAV, he added.