In simple terms, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) are flying cameras and delivery boys. If put to good use, the benefits are immense - for government, security agencies, companies, researchers, retailers and aviation enthusiasts. At the same time, its versatility, small size, and wide reach can be misused, leading to invasion of privacy, strategic or commercial espionage, collision with aircraft and ground assets, or even delivery of explosives and contraband, etc.
The work of the government agencies and regulators, therefore, becomes tough - how to strike a balance between regulation and over-regulation. The USA, UK, France, Australia and South Africa are among the nations that have come out with regulations dealing with eligibility, licensing, and restrictions on height, weight, range and distance, apart from penal provisions. The draft guidelines proposed by DGCA are a good start. It will help promote growth of UAVs, help serve remote communities, assist in disaster monitoring and relief, promote Make in India, and excite Indian youth. India is heavily dependent on Israel for its military drones. That may gradually reduce as a nascent Indian UAVs industry grows.
While import and manufacturing of UAVs need to be licensed, some of the DGCA guidelines have to be liberalised. The height restriction of 200 feet for UAVs operator permits (UAOP) should be increased to at least 500 feet. There should be no need to file a flight plan for operations below 500 feet in unrestricted areas. Visual line of sight (VLOS) restrictions should go - it restricts the utility of a UAV fitted with camera and product delivery capability. The airspace restriction over a 30-km radius from Rashtrapati Bhawan is excessive, and needs to be pruned down to reasonable limits - say around five km.
While DGCA mandates the UAOP holder to maintain records of each UAV flight, the records should also include raw footage collected by the UAV. DGCA would need to set up a dedicated UAV section for faster processing of unique identification numbers and UAOP.
The writer is a partner and the India head of aerospace and defence at global consultancy KPMG