CHENNAI: Flying cameras or unmanned aerial vehicles that double up as delivery boys may soon be circling the Indian skies.
With the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) issuing draft guidelines to allow civil use of unmanned vehicles, the market for drones is just about open up, finally.
But aviation experts seem divided over the DGCA's draft guidelines. While a section of the industry is convinced that the increased usage of drones for civil applications is beneficial, others believe privacy issues need to be tackled first before allowing drones to fly.
Countries like the US, Australia, Japan and New Zealand have notified rules for civilian and commercial operations of drones, with some caveats. Back home, the prevailing norms do not cover use of drones or their sale and purchase. When the concept of unmanned vehicles was gaining popularity around 2013, it was an unregulated market, but the DGCA had restricted their usage since October, 2014.
"Simply put, unmanned aerial vehicles are flying cameras and delivery boys. If put to good use, its benefits are immense - for government, security agencies, companies and individuals. But its versatility, flexibility, small size and reach can be misused to carry out mischief. These include invasion of privacy, or causing damage to moving aerial, ground or naval vehicles; or delivering banned or dangerous goods etc. The work of the government agencies and regulators therefore becomes tough. It’s akin to regulating the ubiquitous motor vehicles or cell-phones - both of which can be put to benevolent or criminal use," Amber Dubey, Partner & India head of Aerospace and Defence, KPMG told Express.
Drones can be used for damage assessment of property and life in areas affected with natural calamities, critical infrastructure monitoring including power facilities, ports, pipelines and aerial mapping. Users in countries like Japan use drones in farming, while others including in India have used them in recreational fields like photography.
In DGCA's own words, unmanned aircraft operations present problems to the regulator in terms of ensuring safety. But considering their increased civil applications, the regulator felt necessary to develop guidelines and regulate the sector.
"Safety reports from a number of civil aviation and safety authorities in the world have revealed a significant number of near-collisions. With the number of incidents increasing, the potential for collisions between manned and unmanned aircraft is growing alarmingly," said Rob Eagles, Director, ATM Infrastructure, International Air Transport Association (IATA). He added that even low mass drones pose a safety hazard.
According to Dubey, the manufacturing and sale of UAVs may have to be licensed with proper records of the product, technology, manufacturer, seller and buyer. Users may need to keep documentary records of the UAV's usage and raw video feed, which could be open to scrutiny by authorised agencies. "DGCA would have to ensure that the regulations do not become so stringent that they become counter-productive," he said.