Detained drones to be used as security tools at Rajiv Gandhi International Airport

The DRI and Customs authorities are expected to soon start using the drones they impound from passengers at RGIA, for their operational purposes.

Published: 14th October 2019 05:20 AM  |   Last Updated: 21st October 2019 06:57 PM   |  A+A-

Representational image (Illustration | Amit Bandre)

Express News Service

HYDERABAD: In the absence of official guidelines for disposal of confiscated drones, what was once turning out to be a headache for the Customs authorities at the Rajiv Gandhi International Airport (RGIA), will now in all likelihood add to their security apparatus. The DRI and Customs authorities are expected to soon start using the drones they impound from passengers at RGIA, for their operational purposes.

As many as 14 drones of varying makes, types, and categories, that were confiscated by the sleuths of RGIA's air cargo complex (ACC) over the last few years, will be now be transferred to the Chennai airport, considering it is one of the four focal customs commissionerates (FCC). 

Meanwhile, the sleuths are documenting the number of drones withheld from passengers at the airport, which sources say, will not take the total number of drones over 20. 

These include popular brands like Parrot Bebop drone skycontroller, crazyflie 2.0, Yidajia, and DJI mavic pro, among others and are known for their lightweight, high stability and excellent image quality. While the largest one -- a foldable drone with camera and battery charger -- weighs around 10.5 kg, the smallest one weighs just over 1 kg.

Circular on confiscated drones from Centre

While drones carrying explosives and arms across the border are among the latest threats to border security, drones of similar nature have been piling up at various airports across the country. The Central government recently decided to put the confiscated drones to use by different DRI and Customs field formations for their operational purposes. The additionally available drones would be distributed equally between the Ministry of Defence (MOD) and the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and their constituent organisations and agencies.

A recent circular from the Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs, a copy of which is in the possession of TNIE, issued instructions regarding disposal of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or remotely piloted aircrafts (RPAS) or drones. As per the circular, after being distributed between the DRI and Customs formations, the drones would be handed out to agencies such as SPG, CRPF, NSG, NTRO, CISF, BSF, ITBP, and DGI (GS branch) free-of-charge and on a gratis basis.

Other Customs and DRI formations in South India, like Bengaluru, Vishakapatnam, Kochi, Thiruvananathapuram, and Tiruchirapalli, along with Hyderabad, will transfer the confiscated drones to Chennai. 

Illegal import of drones on the rise

The disposal of such drones, usually confiscated from passengers arriving from abroad or while they are illegally imported via ports and foreign post offices (FPOs), has been a cause for concern for sleuths. 

"People clandestinely bring drones as they feel tempted to buy them when they travel abroad. For 300-400 USD one could buy a very powerful drone, which could fly for four to five hours and capture excellent sharp images from a good height," said a senior customs official from Mumbai. 

In a recent case, a man won a favourable order from the Telangana High Court to re-export the drone he had imported without taking the requisite permissions after it was confiscated by the Customs sleuths at RGIA. Officials say there is no restriction on re-export of such drones if the importer is ready to pay the penalty and warehouse charges.

A large number of drones have piled up at airports across the country, and at foreign post offices (FPOs) in Mumbai and Delhi in the last 10 years, the customs official from Mumbai added.

While clarifying that the Hyderabad airport does not witness many instances of passengers attempting to bring in drones, a senior official opined: "Instructions for handing over drones to security agencies are proof of the fact that a large number of drones are available at airports." At present, neither the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI), Customs nor the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) uses drones at the airport. 

"We could use drones for surveillance of tarmac area but it has to be ensured that they do not come in the way of aeroplanes," said a customs official.


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