September 30, 2019

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Venturing into the Realm Of Drones

- by Legal Era News Network, [ ]


In the beginning of this year, India unveiled a new drone policy – Drone Policy 2.0 (still at the draft stage) which would be a roadmap for establishing a fully functional drone ecosystem that would allow commercial usage of drones in India...

From the Internet to electric vehicles, we are in a golden age of technology advancement. The world of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones is no exception. In the last few years, consumer interest has scaled with demand for aerial photography and a wide range of commercial applications in India’s B2B sector.

UAVs have penetrated the commercial sphere as well, with businesses deploying drones in increasingly diverse roles. The geospatial market using drones for surveying, mining, construction, to name a few, could possibly see a phenomenal increase in the coming decades.

Drones can help reduce human intervention to gather precise spatial data. It can also be effectively used in the agricultural sector to the health sector, including delivering human organs. However, the scientific applications of drones in India have remained restricted principally due to–

(a) Fairly restrictive policy on usage of drones
(b) Lack of adequate expertise to apply drone surveys for scientific applications
(c) Safety and security concerns related to drone operations

Successful development of a robust Digital Sky Infrastructure and legal enforcement capacity building will have a huge economic and social impact on the next generation of the Indian civil aviation industry.

An unprecedented development is anticipated in the form of drones, equipped with advance data capturing sensors, making them a powerful instrument for digital information gathering. Even the cost of such operations compared to acquiring the same data through satellites or manned aircrafts is marginal. Further, the convergence of drones with cloud services and big-data techniques has shown an unprecedented level of growth in terms of their data gathering capabilities. If individuals, corporations and governments intend to tap into its full potential to enjoy a competitive edge over their counterparts, they must prepare accordingly.

Drones are also being adopted by law enforcement agencies for helping prevent human and drug trafficking. Drones are increasingly popular in films, live telecast of sports and videos.

All UAVs have to observe the rules on restricted, controlled airspaces and any danger areas as defined by the Aeronautical Information Publication as notified by the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) or the Ministry of Civil Aviation.

Civil Aviation Requirements (CAR) is the set of regulations issued by the DGCA to be complied with by all drone pilots in controlled and uncontrolled airspaces.

Through the guidelines issued by the DGCA (i.e. Civil Aviation Requirement), the Government of India finally introduced specific regulations for remotely piloted aircraft systems, ending a long period of ambiguity and paving the way for the commercialization of drones in India in 2018. The drone regulations define and classify drones, how they are to be operated, and the operating conditions for such drones.

All drones except those in the Nano category must be registered and issued a Unique Identification Number (UIN). A permit is required for commercial drone operations (except for those in the Nano category flown below 50 feet and those in the Micro category flown below 200 feet). Drone pilots must maintain a direct visual line of sight at all times while flying.

Permission to fly in controlled airspace can be obtained by filing a flight plan and obtaining a unique Air Defense Clearance (ADC)/Flight Information Center (FIC) number. Drones cannot be flown in areas specified as “No Fly Zones”, which include areas near airports, international borders, and military installations. Drones cannot be flown more than 400 feet vertically.

Most of the UAVs have transmitting cameras that often operate in high definition. There could be easy infringement of privacy as also unintended invasions. This aspect makes it more difficult to ascertain infringement of privacy under existing laws in India.

Civil Drone operators for drones i.e. persons, organizations or enterprises engaged in or offering to engage in the operation of Drones (Operators) must acquire Unmanned Aircraft Operator Permit (UAOP) from DGCA by submitting an application through the Digital Sky Platform with the prescribed fee and in the prescribed form.

The DGCA is responsible for providing ground training under its approved Flying Training Organisations (FTOs). The Operator will have to obtain permission to fly the drone through the ‘Digital Sky Platform’ prior to flying the drone. It is also provided that breach of compliance of any of the requirements stated in this regulation and falsification of records/documents shall attract penalties under various sections of the Indian Penal Code.

The plethora of drones and the invention of more and more unique models of drones shall open up avenues for protection by grant of patents.

Commercial operations for the transport of organs and life-saving medicines, and drone ports to facilitate the take-off and landing of remotely-piloted aircraft are some of the updates to India’s drones policy. Companies like Zomato and Amazon have been looking at ways to use drones to carry out deliveries as well. However, as of now, delivery of food through drones is not permitted.

The use of drones as surveillance tools needs to be acknowledged as it significantly helps law enforcement agencies in restricting unlawful activities and foster national security.

Currently, foreigners are not allowed to fly drones in India. For commercial purpose, they need to lease the drone to an Indian entity who in-turn will obtain Unique Identification Number (UIN) and UAOP from DGCA.

The International Organization for Standardization (“ISO”) has released the first ever draft global standard for drone operations, titled Draft International Standard for Unmanned Aircraft Systems Operations with a view to formulate a set of uniform industry regulations for drone technology, to ensure safety and security. It also suggests that operators should respect privacy and data protection of the individuals.

In the beginning of this year, India unveiled a new drone policy – Drone Policy 2.0 (still at the draft stage) which would be a roadmap for establishing a fully functional drone ecosystem that would allow commercial usage of drones in India. The policy seeks to establish segregated airspace, namely the Drone Corridor, to keep commercial drone operations away from airspace where manned aircraft operate.

The draft policy recognizes that in order to meet the increased demands of the proposed expansion of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) operations, new players will be required to bolster the services provided by the government’s DigitalSky drone registration and compliance platform.

DGCA has certified drones from two Bengaluru-based startups, Skylark Drones and Throttle Aerospace Systems. They complied with the NP-NT (no permission, no takeoff) protocol under the country’s new drone policy. This is the first certification under India’s new drone policy called ‘Digital Sky’, which came into effect on December 1, 2018.


As the number of drones populating Indian skies is swiftly boosting, the pace at which two drones will operate shall become alarmingly glaring in the future and will have to be dealt with soon so as to mitigate risks. There could be concerns pertaining to privacy, accuracy and safeguards to accessibility of information – the prominent ethical issues in relation to the enhanced capabilities and operations of drones. Moreover, drones could be vulnerable to hacking, jamming or spoofing. A major drawback of the drone policy, is that it lacks a precise framework and a robust setup to reduce misuse.

Developments in this arena shall not be immune from practical and operational challenges. The use of drones could lead to issues such as air collision and therefore the safety and security of the use of drones requires a comprehensive framework for effective regulation in the civilian airspace for domestic security, privacy and legal concerns.

Disclaimer – The views expressed in this article are the personal views of the author and are purely informative in nature.


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