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Until April 2016, any use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs)/ drones was strictly prohibited in entire India on the accounts of threat and concerns over privacy and security. However, recently proposed regulations in April 2016 and draft of regulations in November 2017 published by civil aviation regulator Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) laid down a framework to regulate the civil and commercial use of unmanned aircraft system (UAS) technology. They have set December 1st, 2018 as the day for the commencement of commercial use of a drone in India. Many multinational companies and startups are looking to utilize drones/ UAVs to improve and upgrade their products and services. According to an estimate by Ernst & Young (EY) and Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), the market size of drone’s sales is expected to be $885.7 million by 2021. For the same reason, government’s any new regulations or incentives for the nascent technology can act as necessary catalysts or even frivolous blocks to innovations in the industry.

The UAVs/ drones have proven their utility in the fields of agriculture, healthcare, delivery of products, inspection of infrastructure, etc. With the wider adoption and further innovation, the technology can be game changers in these fields. One of the most promising areas for drones is agriculture where drones are expected to help meet a number of big challenges. Drones are being used in agriculture for soil analysis, inspection, planting and irrigation. In some states of India, drones are already in use for spraying pesticides. At present, estimating credit risk of farmers is uncertainty because farming is highly dependent on monsoons. Thus, adopting the usage of drones enables banks and insurance companies to capture data like soil quality and production capacity. Further, enables near accurate prediction of the credit risk of farmers and improve financial support to the farmers.

The drones are also supposed to revolutionize the short-range delivery and logistics in many fields especially healthcare. Drones can be utilized for delivering blood bags and medicines to hospitals in remote areas and even in urban areas subverting highly unpredictable traffic. Silicon Valley-based company Zipline has saved over thousands of lives in Africa delivering blood to people living in rural and hinterlands. E-commerce giant Amazon has also filed a patent in India to introduce their Amazon Prime Air delivery system in India. The drones can deliver products that a person ordered through Amazon, within minutes in cities cutting the shipping costs and time of users and the companies.

Drones are also extensively used for infrastructure inspection in many countries. Drones can be used for monitoring of infrastructure like dams and bridges and surveillance of high priority assets like military bases. Andhra Pradesh government regularly monitors the progress of their prestigious Polavaram Irrigation Project using drones. They also deploy drones as part of their real-time governance initiative to question bureaucrats and hold them accountable. Drones are extensively used by first responders and rescue teams during hurricanes, floods and other natural calamities. A group of motivated engineers helped rescue stranded people during Kerala floods. They can fit right into the good governance policy of the present NDA government. Scientists in the USA are also using underwater drones to track hurricane Florence's trajectory. Drones were used to lift power cables to bring back electricity in Puerto Rico after recent devastation during hurricane Irma and Maria.

After looking at the vast range of applications of drones, we shall now look at the government’s vision and proposed regulations on the commercial use of drones. All the government's regulations have to do with privacy and security concerns regarding drone usage. Recently announced restriction of DGCA mandates the commercial drones to have global positioning system (GPS), return-to-home facility, anti-collision capability, a flight controller with flight data logging capacity, a SIM and an identification plate. The pilots need to get permission for each and every flight through their SIM. All the commercial drones should be registered on an online platform called the digital sky. They also restrict the time, altitude and range of the drones based on the weight and geography. All the drones will be permitted to operate only along the visual line-of-sight and only during the day, with a maximum altitude of 400 feet. However, they waived the requirement of licenses for nano drones weight below 250 gms and operating below 50 feet, as well as those in the micro category weighing between 250g and 2kg and operating below 200 feet. They strictly restrict the use of commercial drones near airports, Vijay Chowk in the national capital, international borders, state secretariats and military installations.

Anti-collision requirement and restriction of flight under 400 ft altitude are rightly put by DGCA. The regulations, however, ignore the conflicts that happen at the low altitude airspace.  Majority of the commercial drones will be used at low altitude and it is the space where there will be a larger share of conflicts with respect to privacy and property rights violations. Though they have regulated the use of drones near certain places, they haven’t mentioned the framework to enforce it apart from the punishments. Even to apply such punishments on the drone operators, they need to have the technology to identify the low flying drones and develop anti-drone systems.  Aviation experts have voiced concerned the possibility of drones colliding with aircraft which can result in a disaster and huge loss of life. They should, however, rethink about the blanket bans in certain areas because blanket bans are always counterproductive and they won't account for the motive of the user. However, there are grave concerns over the threat to certain military assets. In April 2018, Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro was attacked by drones carrying explosives during his speech in Caracas before a large military presence. Also, it will be bothersome for all the photographer and travel bloggers to take certification and seek permission for every flight. The government should not waive the regulations to government departments as there can always be a misuse of such power violating the privacy rights of citizens.

The developing technology and innovating industry need incentives rather than restricting and crippling regulations. Regulations shouldn’t be unnecessary requirements and there should be a single-window process to provide permissions for commercial drones. Many stakeholders like farmers, e-commerce companies, etc. will welcome the move to open up the airspace from December 1st, 2018. The DGCA and the government should follow their word and loosen up the restrictions in the future based on the progress of the drone's technology.

References:

D Damle & S Roy. (March 23, 2018) India's Proposed No-Fly Zones for Drones Will Do More Harm than Good, the wire, retrieved from: https://www.thewire.in/government/indias-proposed-no-fly-zones-for-drones-will-do-more-harm-than-good

S Gupta. (April 21, 2018) Regulations for Drones in India. Economic and Political Weekly. Vol 53. Issue 16. (22-25).

Press Information Bureau. (August 21, 2018). Government announces Regulations for Drones. Retrieved from : http://pib.nic.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=183093

G C Prasad. (August 29, 2018). How govt policy will affect use of drones in India. Livemint. Retrieved from : https://www.livemint.com/Companies/WJVqNQ4R89oGWfVZd58AmO/How-govt-policy-will-affect-use-of-drones-in-India.html

R Sachitanand. (August 12, 2018). With ad-hoc regulation, India is missing out on a big opportunity in drones.  EconomicTimes. Retrieved from: //economictimes.indiatimes.com/articleshow/65369079.cms?utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst


Image Credits:The Business Times

 

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Written By Chanakya Yadav

Bachelors student in Materials Engineering, IIT Madras.

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