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Everything that you wanted to know about flying drones in India

Everything that you wanted to know about flying drones in India
It is projected that by 2020, drones would evolve into a $100 billion economy. There is a growing concern among policymakers that drones, or Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA), can violate privacy rights of individuals. Similarly, there have been many incidents, near airports, where drones have come very close to manned aircraft, thereby causing safety concerns.
It is against this backdrop that India recently came out with subordinate legislation (Civil Aviation Rules, or CARs) that aim to regulate the operations of drones in its territory.
The aviation regulator in India, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) had, from time to time, issued draft rules and sought comments from the public at large. After considering objections, recommendation and suggestions from the public on the last draft issued on September 13, 2017, the DGCA has now notified the final CAR.
The DGCA for the purpose of regulating drones have categorized them under five heads:
  • Nano: Having less than or equal to 250 grams;
  • Micro: Greater than 250 grams and less than or equal to 2 Kg;
  • Small: Greater than 2kg and less than or equal to 25 Kg;
  • Medium: Greater than 25 kg and less than or equal to 150 Kg; and
  • Large: Greater than 150 Kg.
  • The Process For Filing An Application
    An applicant who is interested in importing or buying a drone should file an application as per the format provided in the new regulations. There is a distinction drawn between drones being acquired locally as opposed to drones being imported. All applications are to be submitted through the “Digital Sky” application and website.
    Unique Identification Number
    All civil drone applicants, except those in the Nano category, will have to apply to the DGCA for obtaining a UIN or Unique Identification Number. The UIN is to be issued through the application/website on payment of Rs 1,000 and the DGCA is bound to issue the UIN within a stipulated period of time.
     Unmanned Aircraft Operator Permits (UAOP)
    For heavier drones, or for commercial drones, or above the “exempted” height, one may apply for an UAOP. Again this is to be done through the application/website on payment of Rs 25,000 with a renewal of permit costing Rs 10,000.
    Pilot Training Requirement
    Pilots of RPA’s operating heavy drones or for commercial purposes are also required to get a formal “training” for an approved institution – details of such institutions are still awaited from the DGCA.
    All RPAS operators are required to have insurance for the liability that they might incur for any damage to third party resulting from the accident/incident.
    Enforcement Action
    In case of violation of provisions of above said operating conditions, the following steps may be taken by concerned authorities:
    • UIN/UAOP may be suspended or cancelled;
    • Penal action under the Indian Penal Code may be taken; and
    • Necessary actions under the Aircraft Act, 1934 or the Aircraft Rules 1937 may be taken.
    • How Will The Regulations Be Enforced?
      Most question the ability of the regulator to enforce these regulations, one must bear in mind that the DGCA has based its regulations around an operator keeping a record of all flights. From such logs or records, in case of an incident, the root cause can be determined and relevant fine be imposed. While this works in theory, it is yet to be seen what the practical reality of the regulations bring about.
      India’s Regulations Compared With Other Jurisdictions
      Surprisingly, India’s regulations are at par with those found in other jurisdictions such as the USA and the UK. In those jurisdictions, drone registration is mandatory and the identification of the operator is secured in advance by the FAA or CAA, in the USA or UK respectively. Again, the idea is to be able to trace back responsibility (and consequential blame) in case of an incident. The difference between India and other jurisdictions, in my opinion, would only be the respect for the rule of law which is innate in citizens of other countries as opposed to what we display in India. Persons in other jurisdictions seem to respect the law more than we would in India – only time will tell whether the newly introduced regulations are a success or not. After all, it will take only one incident by a non-law-abiding citizen to have all the good progress made come crashing down!
      Nitin Sarin is managing partner of Sarin & Co.

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