This time, the DGCA has set up a task force, ‘The Drone Task Force’ that shall provide for further recommendations when needed and may even modify the current regulation or create new ones.
What are Drones?
Drones are also referred universally as ‘Unmanned Aerial Surveys” (UAS), and the civilian use of UAS expands to the fields like agriculture, damage assessment of property and life in areas affected with natural calamities, surveys (infrastructure monitoring including power-line facilities, ports, and pipelines; commercial photography; aerial mapping), etc.
However, the UAS operations can create problems to the regulator in terms of ensuring safety of other users of airspace and persons on the ground. However, in view of technological advancements in UAS over the years and their increased civil applications, it has become necessary to develop regulations for operations of this activity.
As per civil aviation regulator’s definition, drones are “Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA)” or in other words, an unmanned aircraft piloted from a remote pilot station.
By issuing the Policy, the DGCA has ended a long period of ambiguity and confusion. However, the challenges in implementation of the policy remain to be seen.
As per the civil aviation requirements – issued under the provisions of Rule 15A and Rule 133A of the Aircraft Rules, 1937 – these RPAs will need a Unique Identification Number (UIN), Unmanned Aircraft Operator Permit (UAOP) and need to adhere to other operational requirements. Kinds of drones are classified as below:
i) Nano: Less than or equal to 250 grams.
ii) Micro: From 250 grams to 2kg.
iii) Small: From 2kg to 25kg.
iv)Medium: From 25kg to 150kg.
v) Large: Greater than 150kg.
Only nano category drones are exempted from obtaining a license. All other drones applications need to be submitted with the DGCA for import clearance and based on that Directorate General of Foreign Trade shall issue license for import of RPAS. The DGCA shall issue the UAOP within seven days, which shall be valid for five years and not transferrable. The policy also stipulates that RPAs shall be flown only by someone over 18 years of age, having passed 10th exam in English, and undergone ground/ practical training as approved by DGCA.
Drone users can operate drone flights only during daytime and that too within “Visual Line of Sight (VLOS)”. This applies to all categories. Also, along with other SOPs, the DGCA has clarified that no remote pilot can operate more than one RPA at any time. Plus, manned aircraft will also get priority. There can’t be any human or animal payloads, or anything hazardous. It cannot in any manner cause danger to people or property. Apart from it, insurance shall be mandatory to cover third-party damage.
As per policy, flying area has been divided into three zones:
1. Red zones : It is a no-fly areas (which include regions close to airports, national borders and military bases);
2. Yellow zones: Flying in this area will require approvals before flying,
3. Green zones: They are unrestricted areas.
RPAs cannot be flown within 5km of the perimeters of the airports in Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata, Bengaluru and Hyderabad and within 3km from the perimeter of any other airport. Also, drones cannot fly within “permanent or temporary Prohibited, Restricted and Danger Areas” and within 25km from international border which includes the Line of Control (LoC), Line of Actual Control (LAC) and Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL).
Operators cannot use drones beyond 500 m into sea from the coast line and within 3 km from perimeter of military installations. They cannot fly within a 5 km radius of the Vijay Chowk in Delhi, within 2 km from perimeter of strategic locations/ vital installations notified by Ministry of Home Affairs and within 3 km from radius of State Secretariat Complexes. Drones cannot be flown from a mobile platform such as a moving vehicle, ship or aircraft. Operators shall not be permitted to fly near eco-sensitive zones around National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries.
Violations & penalties:
Any violations will be acted on under relevant sections of the IPC and the Aircraft Act 1934.The good thing about the new Policy is that now operations of Drones are regulated. Earlier, it was often reported that drones were seen near the Parliament or airport. Now, any such action will attract penalty.
The Aircraft Act, 1934 imposes a penalty of imprisonment for a term which may extend up to two years, or a fine which may extend up to INR 1 million (approximately USD 14,500), or with both, for anyone:
i. Who “willfully flies any aircraft in such a manner as to cause danger to any person or to any property on land or water or in the air“; or
ii. Who “willfully fails to comply with any direction issued [by the DGCA] under section 5A” of the Aircraft Act, 1934.
The Aircraft Rules, 1937 also state that “the doing of any act prohibited by or under any rule, or failure to do any act required to be done by or under any rule, not specified elsewhere in this Schedule” shall constitute an offence punishable with imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 months or with a fine not exceeding INR 100,000 (approximately USD 1,450) or with both.
The DGCA says that permission will have to be taken from the authorities through the Digital Sky app before flying any drone.
Drones can change the game:
Drones are extremely useful during natural catastrophes; as it will help the ground level volunteers to correctly grasp the situation on field. Drones will also be very popular with real estate sector, shipping, mining, adventure, oil & gas exploration, etc. The processions and marches can be monitored using drones. On the civil side, drones are already is use to get the aerial view of marriages, jansabhas, programs, etc.
Million Dollar opportunity:
The Goldman Sachs Research estimates a $100 billion global market opportunity for drone companies by 2020. The Indian Railways, the National Highways Authority of India and various state governments are floating tenders for various large projects involving Drones.
But entrepreneurs who want to develop India made drones say that the main challenge is to attract investment. The Indian drone maker Aarav Unmanned System’s CEO Vipul Singh said: “There was no financial backing, things took time. We were testing in a closed environment, but not for commercial applications. Almost at the end of the second year, we got our first project.”
Drones & Broadcasting sector:
Given the flexibility and speed of drones, and the increasingly impressive on-board camera technology (including image stabilising) there is increasing potential for drones to replace and add to some of the functionalities of wired stadium camera systems, offering a multitude of angles and heights that wired cameras simply cannot. These are functionalities that many broadcasters are already starting to develop.
Sports are top selling content on TV. The Advertisers spend money blindly on major sports tournaments. Drones have a vast potential of adding creativity and realism to live broadcast of sports events like car racing, skiing, water-based sports like surfing or rowing.
Already cricket broadcasters in India are using drones extensively to telecast different angles of the game to make it more interesting. There may even be potential for drones to assume referee functionalities.
The use of drone shots such as Mumbai’s famous Queen’s Necklace near Wankhede stadium can put TV viewers in the thick of action. With drones, sports content will be more attractive and may help bring more advertisers on board. .
Quidich Innovation Labs’ CEO Rahat Kulshreshtha said: “The IPL had nine venues. For a TV viewer at home, all nine look the same. The moment you add a drone, you get interesting connections of the stadium and the city. The relatability is a lot more. We were able to add augmented reality (AR) on a drone, live interactive graphics.”
News gathering & Drones:
Drones can be an efficient way for journalists to tell visual, data-informed stories. In the USA, drones have changed journalism by putting the aerial perspective in the hands of reporters. With drones, reporters can reach locations that would be hazardous or inaccessible to conventional ground transport or aviation.
Drones offer great opportunity for newscasters, as these tiny flying machines are cheaper to fly than helicopters, and potentially can get closer to the action. But experts warn that drone technology is still nascent and safer operating technologies – e.g. sense-and-avoid systems that use internal systems to find and avoid hazards – are still being developed.
The national Drone policy will definitely hinder the free use of drones in TV broadcasting and content production as a professional drone for the purpose, weighs more than 250 gms thus a licence is required to operate it. Also restrictions of its use near the sea coast, border areas, airports and other restricted areas may make it difficult to get permissions.
The way forward:
The governments globally are struggling with the potential safety and privacy implications that follow from putting thousands of drones in the sky for a variety of uses. They are creating a patchwork of laws, rules, and policies that have the potential to trigger liability for broadcasters. Hence, before broadcasters can operate drones to enrich their content, they need to demand and study the rules for channels and M&E industry. The industry needs to know if there are any specific rules that will apply to M&E sector. The special task force on drones needs to engage the broadcasting and film sector to know their specific usage and issues, so as to find solutions.
Also, the question remains whether newscaster shall operate drones or find some other company authorized to operate drones for commercial purposes in their area. Then, there are privacy issues which need to be addressed.
Hence, there is a reason to be cautious and do proper research when using drones for newsgathering, filmmaking, sports coverage, etc.