Even as India's growing civil drone industry is forecast to grow at 18 percent until 2021, stakeholders have been invited to submit their comments on draft guidelines prepared by the Ministry of Civil Aviation. A final Civil Aviation Regulation (CAR) on Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) will be released by the end of February.
At this time, the rules on UAS are sketchy, and drone flying, including sports models, is not encouraged, as there is no tracking system and more than one third of the country's airspace is controlled by the military.
“Drones have generated a lot of interest, [but] not having any regulations amounted to a complete ban,” civil aviation minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju told AIN. “So, we decided to go ahead and develop a regulatory framework.”
“Security restrictions have already been worked out, and we are adopting global best practices,” said state minister for civil aviation Jayant Sinha while announcing the draft last November. Civil aviation secretary RN Choubey acknowledged that “drones are a difficult topic to regulate.” He said India prepared the draft regulations after studying the rules from various other countries. “We want larger public consultations, after which we will put out final regulatory framework for drones that will include the ease of operation, and ensuring there are no security breaches, on which we are working separately.
“Technology is moving quickly. We are headed to where everything is automated. We are looking at developing a software for a digital sky concept on how to navigate,” said Sinha.
The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) draft has classified UAS according to weight:
- Nano, less than 250 grams (.55 pounds)
- Micro, 250 grams to 2 kg (4.4 pounds)
- Mini, 2 kg to 25 kg (55.1 pounds)
- Small, 25 kg to less than 150 kg (331 pounds)
- Large, greater than 150 kg.
While the general requirements of all categories remain almost the same by way of registration and security and air traffic control clearances and permits, Nano UAS, which are allowed to fly up to only 50 feet, do not require any clearances. (The rest are allowed to 200 feet.)
The draft regulation also mandates pilot training for all categories except Nano and Micro. Micro and above category drones will have to be equipped with RFID/SIM, a return-to-home option and anti-collision lights.
While the regulations will come as good news for e-commerce companies such as Amazon (to deliver products), there are many apprehensions, including limitations on altitude, tracking, and training. And a large “No Drone Zone” has been marked out. The areas include “Above Obstacle Limitation Surfaces” (OLS) of operational airports; within a five-km (2.7-nautical-mile) radius from the Airport Reference Point of an operational airport; within 50 km of an international border; from mobile platforms such as a moving vehicle, ship or aircraft; and over sensitive installations and VIP areas.
“As far as operations are concerned, the ATC flight plan and all ‘paperwork’ can be filed online. We are working on a digital template,” said Choubey. He added that permission “does not allow the drone operator to violate privacy laws. We are making the CAR user friendly and want it to be a template for the world to follow.”
While the draft CAR does not cover manufacturing, “this is an important area to be considered. We have high security concerns on the need to detect and avoid. If we could build these drones in India, there would be a big potential for export,” said Sinha.