India: An Analysis Of The Regulatory Framework Of The Unmanned In India

Last Updated: 29 June 2016
Article by Purvasha Mansharamani and Sheniza Farid

Introduction

In an age of rapid technological innovation and advancement, new technologies are not only pioneers but also spawn new issues particularly legal. One of these new technologies with legal ramifications in the 21st Century is Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) since they have the potential to change the way governments and businesses operate. UAS previously have been used for the military only but currently, UAS are being sold commercially for example, there are eight manufacturers of UAS in India which are Aurora Integrated Systems (TATA), Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO), Idea Forge, Hindustan Aeronautics, Kadet Defence Systems, National Aerospace Laboratories, OM UAV Systems and Speck Systems.

Given the growth potential of this nascent industry, governments around the world have developed UAS regulations for civil use. India initially banned the use of UAS since the current aircraft rules did not accommodate unmanned systems. In April, the DGCA finally submitted draft regulations to the relevant ministries in order to incorporate regulations arising out of the use of UAS.

The paper will firstly provide a brief overview of the draft regulations. Secondly, the shortcomings of the draft regulations will be addressed by referring to expert opinions on the Draft Guidelines. Finally, it will conclude by suggesting factors that need to be considered and incorporated in the upcoming rules due in July 2016 to ensure the regulations by DGCA are effective.

According to the DGCA "The UAS consists of an Unmanned Aircraft (UA), a Remote Pilot Station (RPS), Command and Control (C2) Link, a maintenance system and an operating personnel. Unmanned aircraft are either pilotless or do not carry pilot(s) on board. Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA), Autonomous Aircraft and Model Aircraft are various types of unmanned aircraft."1 It further states that, civilian use of UAS entails "assessment of property and life in areas affected with natural calamities, surveys; critical infrastructure monitoring including power facilities, ports, and pipelines; commercial photography, aerial mapping, etc."2

The object of the DGCA is to regulate UAS operations in uncontrolled space and restrict their operations in controlled airspace. Furthermore, the use of UAS is subject to same rules that govern manned aircrafts in terms of safety assessment of launch and recovery sites.3

Brief Overview of the Regulations

  • The Draft guidelines further classify UAS into four categories based on their weight as Micro, Mini, Small & Large
  • There is a mandatory provision for all unmanned aircrafts to be operated in India to obtain a Unique Identification Number (UIN). Also all civil UA operations at or above 200 feet aboveground level in uncontrolled airspace for any purpose will require a UA Operator Permit (UAOP).
  • Entities which operate below 200 feet aboveground level in uncontrolled airspace and clear of notified prohibited, restricted and danger areas as well as Temporary Segregated Areas (TSA) and Temporary Reserved Areas (TRA) do not require UAOP from DGCA, instead the operator is required to obtain permission & clearances from local administration. Model aircraft (defined in the guidelines as "Unmanned Aircraft (UA) without payload used for recreational purposes only.") operating below 200 feet aboveground level in uncontrolled airspace & indoor UA only for recreational purposes will also not require UAOP from DGCA.
  • Only Indian citizens or a company with majority of their business in India with substantial ownership of Indian nationals can obtain UAOP. UAOP is under the direct control of DGCA and subject to cancellation and suspension. Moreover, it will be valid only for two years and is non-transferrable.
  • Operational Requirements:

    International operations of civil UAS (flying across the territory) and/or over water shall be strictly prohibited. The UA shall not be flown over the entire air space over the territory of Delhi (30km radius from Rashtrapati Bhavan) and areas falling within 50 km from the international borders. Also, UA (unmanned aircraft) shall not be flown over other sensitive locations viz. nuclear stations, military facilities and strategic locations4.

Opinion of the experts

A few experts observe that the Draft Guidelines are a positive and necessary step by the DGCA for instance Rajiv Chib, Director of Aerospace and Defence at PwC India states that the usage of UAS is huge in various avenues for example "commercial photography, policing duties, and survey of land, rivers and industrial facilities." 5 Hence, the wide application of UAS necessitate the creation of policy to monitor their use particularly because many potential customers were wary in terms of using UAS commercially due to the lack of regulations and ambiguity regarding the procedure for obtaining permits.6

Another expert Colonel Zia, states that "security should be paramount, and draws a parallel between the US gun regulations, and UAVs, if not regulated. "If not controlled, it will be like the US gun law. Till the time the government realises the harm in it, the mafia controlling it will have created a strong lobby which can have detrimental effect."7

The authors having gone through the guidelines believe that the following points need to be given more importance to ensure that the guidelines have a stronger impact.

  1. Liability

    In the present draft there is no distinction of liability based on weight of the UAS. In the event of a mishap, UAS (light weight or heavy weight) will be subject to same requirements; ideally lighter drones should be subject to less stringent requirements since generally they will cause less damage as compared to heavier drones in the event of a collision.
  2. Privacy

    Given the burgeoning technology, the DGCA should account for the evolution of UAS technology and update their policy/rules accordingly keeping in mind the rapid pace at which technology is advancing to ensure that all civil rights and liberties are protected and especially privacy issues and protection of data which is collected are handled efficiently.
  3. Punishments/ Fines

    The current rules delegate the punishment and fines for violators to the courts however; stricter fines and punishments should be imposed on violators to deter them from breaking the rules established in order to make them effective.

Reference can be taken from the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) which proposed its biggest fine ever of $1.9 million against aerial photography company SkyPan International for illegal drone flights in the busy airspace above New York and Chicago in 20158. US on 21st June 2016 came out with rules for new commercial small UAS, violation of the requirements under this rule could expose the flyer for penalties under Part 107 which will have effect from August.

Conclusion

The regulations are a necessary step as civil use will be beneficial in a variety of aspects. Especially after recording incidents of individuals being arrested under 336 of IPC for flying drones without permissions. However, the proposed regulations need to be more comprehensive to have a positive impact on the industry and DCGA should allocate harsher punishments and heavier fines for violators. Moreover, as it is aptly contended by various experts that the regulations are necessary to monitor the UAS to ensure security and safety but DGCA should not intervene to such an extent that it restrains the growth of the market by deterring commercial activity altogether.9

Footnotes

[1] Guidelines for obtaining Unique Identification Number (UIN) & Operation of Civil Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS), Air Transport Circular XX of 2016, Government of India Office of the Director General of Civil Aviation available at http://www.dgca.nic.in/misc/draft%20circular/AT_Circular%20-%20Civil_UAS(Draft%20April%202016).pdf

[2] See supra 1

[3] For Centre for Air Power Studies (CAPS), Wg Cdr BS Nijjar, writes "Regulating the Unmanned" available at http://capsindia.org/files/documents/CAPS_Infocus_BSN_04.pdf

[4] See Supra 1

[5] For Deccan Herald, Furquan Moharkan writes "Manning unmanned aerial vehicles", available at http://www.deccanherald.com/content/549359/manning-unmanned-aerial-vehicles.html

[6] See Supra 5

[7] For Business Standards, Amber Dubey writes "Guidelines for flying UAVs: Good beginning but guidelines need to be liberalized", available at http://www.business-standard.com/article/opinion/guidelines-for-flying-uavs-good-beginning-but-guidelines-need-to-be-liberalised-says-amber-dubey-116051500880_1.html

[8] For CNET, Stephan Shankland writes "FAA seeks $ 1.9 M fine against drone photography company" available at http://www.cnet.com/news/faa-proposes-1-9-million-fine-for-drone-photography-company/

[9] See Supra 5

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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