Flying a drone, unmanned aircraft (UA), is gaining high traction for both utility and benefit. As we started researching, there are many countries who do not have information, excepting countries like US, Japan, Germany, Australia and a few more. While there are numerous beneficial use-cases, there are equal and more number of concerns in allowing UA in civil applications. Hence, many countries have banned use of UA.
Indian had earlier through its Notice of 7 October 2014 had prohibited use of UA for civil applications. On 20 April 2016, Department General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) issued draft guidelines for operation of civil unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). The draft guidelines, still shows that it is in draft format and open for comments (We could not locate the latest / final guidelines on DGCA’s website).
In India, UAS are classified based on weight, micro (less than 2 kilograms), mini (2-20 kgs), small (20-150 kgs), large (more than 150 kgs)
DGCA will register all civil UA and issue a UA Operator Permit (UAOP) on case to case basis. All the UAS operators are required to adhere to these guidelines in the interest of flight Safety.
All unmanned aircraft intended to be operated in India will require a Unique Identification Number (UIN) issued from DGCA. So, it appears that the UIN is for every UA. Further, irrespective of the weight, a UA has to obtain a UIN.
The guidelines then goes on to say that UIN is issued to an Indian or Indian Company (substantial ownership and control is with Indian nationals). The approval process, apart from a bunch of documents, requires the operator and remote pilot to obtain a verification of character and antecedents from local sub-divisional police office.
Every UA should carry an identification plate with the UIN and RFID tag / SIM along with ownership details.
All civil UA operations at or above 200ft AGL in uncontrolled airspace for any purpose whatsoever will require UA Operator Permit from DGCA. Such permit is valid for 2 years and non-transferable (except with prior permission from DGCA). Further, it requires the operator to intimate prior every flight to the local administration, ATS unit. It is not clear of the enforcement of this guideline, when during the course of flight, if a UA breaches 200ft. Below 200ft, in uncontrolled airspace indoor or recreation has slightly lesser restrictions and does not require a UA Operator Permit. But it appears that it still needs a UIN.
There are rigours on the remote pilot as well. Such person should have ground training like that of aircrew of manned aircraft, training in the control of a UA including that of a simulated flight training. Exceptions of these trainings are for micro category and recreational flying.
Every UA flight has to be recorded by the UA Permit holder and these records should be available for audit when called for.
The biggest concern is with regards to privacy, protection of personnel/ property/ data and security. However, the 9 page document makes a passing reference that the operator shall due “importance” to this aspect.
Here’s a summary of Small Unmanned Aircraft Rules issued by Federal Aviation Administration Washington, which is kind of making a good attempt to detail the dos and don’ts. Many countries are learning as the technology and its applications are being absorbed by the authorities.
In India, the short list of guidelines seems to be a first draft, which requires in-depth thought on many fronts, to be comprehensive.
Like always, law plays a catch-up role with rapidly changing technologies.
With mobility – air, surface, taking on new dimensions, this is an extremely interesting area for law makers to be clued in.