Late last year, one of the world’s largest e-commerce company Amazon Inc, delivered a Fire TV stick and a bag of popcorn to a house in rural England using a drone. While the world stood up and wondered at the possibility of the future, the fact remained that this was just a trial.
Drones and unmanned aerial vehicles have been used by defence forces around the world for several years. But their civil usage is a subject that is still evolving in the offices of regulators of even countries like the US and United Kingdom. While India’s civil aviation regulators have been slow in approving several innovations like wi-fi on commercial airlines, when it comes to drones for civil use, the country will not be left behind.
On Wednesday, just days after US President Donald Trump announced he wants to facilitate the use of commercial drones, the Ministry of Civil Aviation released its final draft of civil aviation requirements for unmanned aerial vehicles or drones and by 2018 the policy could well be finalised.
“The final policy on drones may be out be the end of the year as the draft gives 30 days for inviting public comments which are then evaluated,” said R N Choubey, Secretary, Ministry of Civil Aviation at press conference.
“Drones are very dynamic, these rules will allow companies to deliver goods via drones to their customers provided they follow the norms. Both the aviation ministers wanted drones to be open for all to use, including businesses,” he added.
As per the draft rules, drones have been classified under five categories based on weight. Nano drones which weigh less than 250 gram and are capable of flying not more than 50 feet from ground level will not need any permission from the regulator. Drones above 250 g and less than 2kg, which can fly no higher than 200 ft will need policy permission. The ones weighing more than 2kg will need to apply for several other permissions including one from the police, a license and a flight plan. All drones will also be barred from flying in sensitive areas like around the India Gate in New Delhi, international borders, within 500 meters of strategic locations, eco-sensitive areas and other such zones.
To its credit, the Ministry of Civil Aviation and Directorate General of Civil Aviation have been proactive when it comes to allowing civil use of drones. Work on framing regulations began as early as October 2014.
“Of late, lots of interests are being shown for civil use (both commercial and recreational) of UAS in the country. DGCA is in the process of formulating the regulations (and globally harmonize those) for certification & operation for use of UAS in the Indian Civil Airspace,” a public notice from the DGCA in 2014 stated.
Elaborating on the need for such rules, Civil Aviation Minister Ashok Gajapati Raju said, “The general interest was always there. Not having regulation was amounting to a total ban. That did not make sense. Drones can be very useful in humanitarian causes like delivery of blood.”
Apart from humanitarian causes, Indian skies could also witness Amazon Prime Air delivery trials. Amazon has already filed a patent application in India exclusive rights on multi-scale fiducials or black and white marks to help identify the drone in the sky. Amazon had also filed a patent application in India for a technology to ensure that automated aerial vehicles (AAVs) do not hit humans or animals while delivering packages.
It might be early days yet, but the Ministry of Civil Aviation’s intent is clear. It does not want to block the use of civil drones but it does want to keep a close eye.