Prelims cum Mains Science & Tech

Counter-drone strategy for country’s airports is ready

The News

  • Aviation security watchdog BCAS (Bureau of Civil Aviation Security) has finalised a strategy to neutralise drones near airports.
  • The government is now set to unveil a framework to regulate unmanned aircraft systems in the country.

 

Key Highlights

  • The counter-drone plan was prepared by a committee headed by Director General of BCAS (Bureau of Civil Aviation Security).
  • It has proposed neutralising drones through a soft kill”approach instead of a hard kill approach.
  • The soft kill approach will include entrapping or jamming drones instead of destroying them.
  • The soft kill approach has been suggested because destroying a drone (hard kill approach) with a payload of explosives or biochemical will result in an attack and serve the purpose of their handlers.
  • The strategy deals with drones operating near aerodromes as the body is mandated to ensure aviation security.
  • Earlier in November 2017, the Ministry of Civil Aviation had released draft rules for unmanned aircraft systems.
  • The draft rules proposed to ban the operation UAVs within 5 km radius of an airport and 50 km from an international border.

 

Background

Air Traffic Management and Counter-drone strategy

  • Drones present a new dimension in the management of air traffic.
  • This is because they are neither as easy to track as conventional aircraft nor as easy to communicate with.
  • In an incident, an Air India flight almost collided with a UAV at Leh airport in 2014. The UAV was undetected on radars.
  • In another such incident, a drone was flying very close to the IGI Airport in New Delhi. Investigators found that no radars had picked up the UAV, nor was any imaging found on their recording equipment.
  • Taking note of such issues, the Indian government had constituted a committee to accommodate UAVs in the Indian airspace.
  • Now the counter-drone plan prepared by a committee headed by Director General of BCAS (Bureau of Civil Aviation Security) has proposed neutralising drones through a “soft kill” approach instead of a hard kill approach.

 

Brief account of regulation of drones

Growing applications

  • Drones are used for variety of applications, such as surveillance and reconnaissance, in unknown or hostile territories, to track enemy movements, for border patrols, search and rescue missions, and emergency services.
  • They have also penetrated the commercial sphere. For instance, Amazon did its first delivery legally using drones in December 2016 in the UK.
  • Drones are largely used for developmental purposes, including aerial mapping, and for monitoring critical infrastructure such as ports and power plants.

 

 

Lack of regulation

  • While drones are proving to be useful for military, commercial, civilian, and even humanitarian activities, their unregulated use carries serious consequences that need to be addressed.
  • There are no clear global mechanisms yet present to regulate drone activities.
  • Issues around drones include accidents, air collision, safety and security of the use of drones.
  • The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) is the lead platform for framing rules of the road for drone operations.
  • ICAO issued first set of rules in the form of Circular 328 in 2011.
  • It called upon member states to provide comments, ‘particularly with respect to its [drone] application and usefulness’” with the aim of developing ‘the fundamental international regulatory framework.
  • A more comprehensive set of standards and regulations is set to be promulgated in 2018.

 

Regulatory framework in India

  • For the first time a Notice issued by the Office of DGCA, India’s civil aviation regulator, in 2014 giving power of approval to certain authorities for civil operation of drones in India.
  • Consequently the civil operation of UAV will require approval from the Air Navigation Service provider [Airport Authority of India], defence, Ministry of Home Affairs, and other concerned security agencies, besides the DGCA.
  • In 2016 the DGCA released a set of draft guidelines on the use of UAVs for civilian or recreational purposes.
  • Further in October 2017, the DGCA released a new set of guidelines putting a near-blanket ban on drones.
  • However, despite the ban there have been a worryingly high number of sightings of UAVs in different areas across the country.

 

Few Issues to be addressed

1. Quality Control

  • As a sizable percentage of India’s drones continue to be imported, there is a need to ensure their quality control and standardisation.
  • Alarming is the fact that there are no guidelines in ascertaining the airworthiness of a UAV.
  • Absence of guidelines for imports also poses a massive threat to national security.
  • Further the UAVs are vulnerable to hacking severely affecting the digital security of these drones

2. The Privacy Question

  • Drones operated by non-governmental agencies pose a major threat to existing privacy laws.
  • The second broad question that arises is the regulation of governmental agencies using drones for surveillance.
  • Government agencies are contemplating the use of drones for a range of activities from traffic monitoring to maintaining security during crowded events. Recently, the Mumbai Police used drones to conduct surveillance over processions during a major festival in the city
  • In such a situation the privacy considerations of such use of UAVs by law enforcement agencies become important.

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