Editorial✍ Hindu Edi Prelims cum Mains Science & Tech

A flight path with obstacles

Drones:

  • Drones are a technology platform which has wide-ranging applications from photography to agriculture, from infrastructure asset maintenance to insurance.
  • Drones being tested to make agriculture highly efficient and productive.
    • For example, some agriculturalists are using drones to study nitrogen level in leaves, not for a farm as a whole, but for each individual plant, enabling farmers to add corrective fertilizer only where necessary.
  • Some companies are envisioning the use of drones in public transport in the not too distant future, as well as setting up drone hubs — mini airports, where drones carrying people and cargo can congregate.

India has been slow to permit their usage:

  • While the rest of the world has been soaring ahead in making the futuristic promise of unmanned flying vehicles a more immediate reality, India has largely been dragging its feet.
  • Up until the end of August, flying a drone was mostly illegal in India.

 

Drone Regulations 1.0:

  • With the publication of the Drone Regulations 1.0 recently, the Ministry of Civil Aviation has attempted to give some structure to the development of drone infrastructure in India.

Want the drone market to grow:

  • The government estimates the potential of the “drone market” in India to be $1 trillion.

But security concerns mean regulations are burdensome:

  • The regulations have been drafted keeping in mind that India’s security environment necessitated extra precautions.
  • As a result, the regulations make flying a drone a task wrapped tightly in immense paperwork.
  • The structure of these regulations makes the possibility of a red tape-free flight very slim.

 

Drone Regulations 1.0 are burdensome

  • India’s Drone Regulations 1.0 separate drones into five categories — nano, micro, small, medium and large.

Only Nano Drones have low regulation:

  • There is very little regulation for flying a nano up to 50 metres height, except for not flying near airports, military sites or in segregated airspace.

Heavy regulation starts with Micro Drones:

  • The paranoia kicks in from the micro category.
  • It starts with the application for a unique identification number (UIN) for each drone, with a long list of documentation including security clearances from the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) in several cases.
  • Once the UIN is obtained, operators get to move to the next step — of having to apply for an Unmanned Aircraft Operator Permit (UAOP), implying more forms, more annexures and more submissions.
  • Even to fly a micro drone below 200 ft, users have to intimate the local police station 24 hours prior. (One application requires that it be submitted with seven copies.)

All this makes tough to operate drones:

  • With so many government authorities involved in allowing permission and keeping an eye, it is inevitable that operators could be slapped easily with real and perceived violations.

Tough even for manufacturers and developers:

  • Manufacturers of drones as well as technologists and researchers making applications using drones have to test fly these frequently, often several times a day.

Fixed areas for testing but too far off to be useful:

  • In an effort to make things slightly easy, the regulation provides a a list of identified areas for testing and demonstration.
  • Flying drones in these areas comes with less paperwork.
  • However, the locations provided are so far from technology and development hubs that it is unclear how practical these will be.
  • In Karnataka, for example, the identified areas are Chitradurga, Coorg and Ganimangala village (which does not even appear on Google maps), all of which are around 200 km from Bengaluru entailing nearly four hours of travel one way.

 

 

Drone Regulations 1.0 is a good start but must be revised to make them more liberal

Security and Privacy risks are high:

  • The security and privacy risks of allowing drones to fly in an unregulated manner are high.
  • In August, 2018, a drone was used in an attack on Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro during a public meeting.

But regulations must be more balanced to enable use:

  • However, if India is to reach even the fraction of the $1 trillion potential, it needs to figure out a more balanced manner of regulation.
  • The current rules are a start, but only in the sense that they free all drones from their previous illegality.
  • The real impact of drones will be in the many applications they will be put to.

 

Conclusion:

  • China’s drone economy — manufacturing and development — will be worth $9 billion in 2020, while the U.S’s commercial drone market is expected to be $2 billion by 2023 (Global Market Insights).
  • For India to compete against these giants, it already has a lot of catching up to do.
  • Missing out on working on the applications applications early enough will likely have serious repercussions to India’s future competitiveness in the field.
  • Filing a series of applications in multiple copies and waiting for various government departments to respond is not the best way to get started.

 

Importance:

GS Paper III: Sci-Tech

 

Related question:

Drone Regulations 1.0 is a good start but they must be revised periodically to make them more liberal if India seeks to realize the full potential of civilian usage of drones. Discuss.

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