India to prepare drone policy for civilian use
Reuters | Photo Credit: Reuters

In an attempt to facilitate the civilian use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), the Indian government will shortly start fresh consultations to evolve a UAV policy.

According to the contours of the plan being envisaged, the government may restrict the payload to 25kg and the UAV may have to fly within the ‘visual range’ also referred to as the ‘visual line-of-sight’.

India’s reference point for these discussions is expected to be the rules and provisions on UAV announced by the US Federal Aviation Administration (USFAA) on 21 June. The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has published draft guidelines for obtaining unique identification number for operations of civil drones and unmanned aircraft system.

“The Indian government like USFAA will restrict use of payload or cargo only up to 55 pounds or 25kg,” said a civil aviation ministry official who didn’t want to be identified.

“This (visual range) is one prominent concern for us as our country is highly populated and flying in visual range is something which the MHA has objected to. India unlike US has a different geographical pattern as well. And so we cannot blindly follow the UAV rules by USFAA. But the issues have to be sorted out based on best practices,” added the official.

Drones can be effectively deployed by e-commerce delivery firms and also for monitoring purposes by the Indian Railways and energy firms. Currently, UAV is used by security agencies and public sector units such as Power Grid Corp. of India Ltd for laying high tension cable lines.

InfraCircle reported on 16 May about an expert committee on roads recommending deploying drones for surveillance of highways.

“A high-level meeting is being called shortly to discuss the UAV usage in the Indian air space,” said another civil aviation ministry official who also requested anonymity.

“The meeting will be attended by the representatives of the ministries of home affairs (MHA) and civil aviation, DGCA and Airports Authority of India (AAI),” added the official.

DGCA banned the use of drones in September last year and said it was working on formulating rules and regulations in this regard. It is now taking help from air navigation service providers, ministry of defence and MHA and other concerned security agencies, who have sought feedback from the aviation regulator for the civilian use of UAVs.

Queries emailed to the spokespersons of ministries of home affairs and civil aviation, DGCA and AAI on 24 June remained unanswered.

Experts point out that security concerns may be a hindrance to the drone’s civilian use.

Gurcharan Bhatura, an aviation expert and director general of Foundation for Aviation and Sustainable Tourism, said, “India cannot be as liberal as the US as far as the policy related to civil use of UAV or drone is concerned.”

“The issues are country-specific. We have different security issues than that of the US. For India, it is a very sensitive issue as far as India’s security is concerned. It is fine if you want to promote use of UAV for commercial use. But that shouldn’t be above the interest of the nation. It could very much be misused for terror activists,” added Bhatura, who had earlier been the airport director of Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai while he worked for state-run airport developer AAI.

The USFAA announced the ‘Small Unmanned Aircraft Rules’ on 21 June to regulate the use of UAV or drones for civilian use.

“This would be followed by a series of meeting with private-commercial stakeholders such as e-commerce companies which would be the ultimate beneficiary once the UAV policy comes in,” said the first official quoted above.

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