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Drones – Ready to Hover Indian Skies

By: Ramesh Vaidyanathan and Mansi Singh

Drones are a path-breaking technological breakthrough having myriad applications in areas such as security management, aerial surveys, agriculture, news gathering and commercial filming. While most countries had enacted laws regulating the use of drones, India for a long time kept deliberating on the regulations governing the licensing and operation of drones.

Internationally, drones were being deployed to transport commodities such as medicines and food to remote and inaccessible regions thereby saving lives and revolutionizing the way the world delivers. Flirtey, a drone delivery service, has been conducting deliveries of medicines to rural healthcare clinics, ship-to-shore deliveries of medical samples and deliveries of retail and e-commerce items to consumer homes in the US. Flirtey has also partnered with REMSA Health, a provider of ambulance and emergency health services in the state of Nevada, to launch the first automated external defibrillator drone delivery service in the US. It is not just the developed countries but also the developing countries like Rwanda that have been deploying drones to save lives. The Rwandan government has partnered with the Silicon Valley based robotics firm Zipline to deliver plastic sachets of blood to medical facilities situated in remote areas of Rwanda, thereby reducing the medical facility’s time to procure blood from four hours to fifteen minutes.

Realizing the immense potential of the drone technology and the rampant use of drones in India despite a blanket ban on their use, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) managed to finally roll out the ‘drone regulations 1.0’ in August 2018 (Drone Regulations 1.0), which came into effect from 1st December 2018. The Drone Regulations 1.0 laid down the obligations of the drone operators for safe operation of drones and also introduced the Digital Sky Platform, a first of its kind online IT platform developed for handling unique identification number, unmanned aircraft operator permit applications and permissions to fly drones in India. The Digital Sky Platform was launched simultaneously with the Drone Regulations 1.0 coming into effect, i.e., on 1st December 2018 to register the users of drones and the portal is soon expected to implement a unique ‘no permission, no take-off’ mechanism.

The legalization of drones is expected to pave the way for the manufacture of drones in India. Given the Government’s focus on ‘Make in India’ and India’s tremendous prowess in software development, we may soon become a world leader in developing drone technology. The growth in the drone industry is calculated to unleash employment opportunities in the fields of manufacture and operation of drones. The legalisation of drones has also provided new business opportunities to entrepreneurs and opened up avenues for investment. Drones may also lead to major breakthroughs in agricultural development by producing precise 3-D maps for early soil analysis and by efficient monitoring of crops. Considering the fact that more than 50% of the Indian population earns their livelihood from agriculture, the capacity of drones to make transformative impact on our lives cannot be gainsaid. The legalization of drones is also expected to immensely benefit real estate companies, photography industry, mining industry, oil and gas companies and insurance companies amongst others.

The Drone Regulations 1.0 is being applauded for being a good start and an important milestone in the continuing journey towards enhancing the ease of doing business in India. Having said that, to fully enjoy the benefits of the drone technology, the Drone Regulations 1.0 will need to evolve to allow drones to be operated automatically, beyond the visual line of sight and allow for payloads, thereby paving the way for drone deliveries. Taking note of the life changing impact that drones are creating worldwide and in view of the shortcomings of the Drone Regulations 1.0, the Ministry of Civil Aviation acted at lightning speed and the Minister of Civil Aviation, Mr. Jayant Sinha released the draft drone policy 2.0 (Draft Drone Regulations 2.0) on 15th January, 2019 at a global aviation summit. The Draft Drone Regulations 2.0 recommends expanding the operation of drones beyond the visual line of sight and beyond the current limit of 400 feet. This will create an enabling framework for sellers to deliver orders using drones. The Draft Drone Regulations 2.0 once implemented are geared at exploiting the commercial potential of drones especially with respect to the transport of temperature sensitive commodities like bodily organs, emergency deliveries of life-saving drugs or safe blood for transfusions and collection of patient specimens for time-sensitive testing in laboratories. The Draft Drone Regulations 2.0 also proposes 100% FDI under automatic route in drone based commercial civil aviation services to provide a boost to the Make in India initiative in this industry.

As we celebrate the exciting future that drone technology promises, it is also important to not lose sight of the fact that technology is always a double edged sword. Regulation of drones in a country like India is likely to be more difficult than in most other countries with much lesser population. Drones may continue to be a security threat but as Leonardo da Vinci said “for once you have tasted flight you will walk the Earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will always long to return”. Despite the security risks, the drone technology too will enable us and our future generations to take flight and navigate areas that we could not have even imagined.

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