India’s solution for the drone regulatory problem of Civil Aviation Authorities across the world
By Sai Pattabiram
Regulation of drones is a common problem of civil aviation regulators like DGCA across the world.
At the heart of this problem lies the fact that though drones are miniatures of their larger cousins their ways of operations, population distribution, and cost of ownership are very different from airlines which the regulators are familiar with. It is these very differences that regulators are finding to be the cause for failure of their efforts to regulate drones.
The latest violations at Gatwick Airport London during the peak of the Christmas weekend prove this point .Had the drones been equipped with closed-loop tracking devices that tracked and logged their use with capabilities of flight disruption/ termination in case of violations, such incident could have been controlled more effectively.
A case in point is India, where an estimated 5 lakh predominantly Chinese drones have been imported and operated illegally for the past four years despite a DGCA ban on their use since October 2014. While DGCA’s notification of ban would have been effective had drones operated like airlines, it failed miserably since drone use doesn’t follow the same rules as other operators in the civilian airspace. This is pretty much the case with every country globally. Drone operations are more along the lines of cars and bikes than passenger planes and helicopters. Unless this fact is appreciated and accepted, efforts to regulate drones will always be a challenge.
Drones are a major disruption in civilian airspace usage and have to be dealt with by creating solutions that are different from the routine.
The good news is that the Government of India has already created a solution to solve a far bigger but similar problem of tracking and regulating 2 crore public service vehicles involved in the transportation of passenger and goods.
The system consists of the AIS 140 compliant closed-loop hardware device, web portal-based software that tracks and logs the vehicles operations. The monitoring system tracks “exceptions” that affect passenger safety such as emergency situations, route deviations, speed limit, geo-fence violations etc. Vehicles pretty much operate unhindered while the system logs operational parameters of it. The regulatory authorities are involved only in monitoring exceptions.
This system developed and under implementation by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MORTH) can be directly adapted to drones and integrated with the existing “digital sky“, which is equivalent to MORTH’s “Vahan“ data base .
Specific geo fences can be created around “no-fly zones” across India and only violation of these would be tracked and dealt with. Options like flight termination, altitude violation etc. can be pre-programmed into the device. The device will operate over GSM and provide drone location even in the case of Rf link failure.
This entire system can be exported as a “Made in India” solution globally, thus giving India’s ambitions of forming a “Global Drone Alliance “ a strong foundation with a relevant Indian Made solutions solving a huge Global problem for drone regulators globally.
The key to the success of drone regulations, both in India as well as globally, lies in on-boarding and tracking the existing drones in the ecosystem. These illegal drones operating in India, estimated to be around 5 lakhs, being outside the system have the potential to completely derail regulations much like a parallel economy. Their owners and operators have violated the Indian airspace with impunity in the past and in most cases, operated without being traced, hence they might just continue to do so in future.
The GATWICK drone incident proves the importance of on-boarding the existing drones in the ecosystem and their potential to disrupt if not done so.
Hence, on-boarding these drones and regulating them is critical for implementation of Civil Aviation Requirements Section 3 (CAR 3 1.0), better known as India’s Drone Regulations , and its future versions 2.0 , 3.0…
India is not the only country in the world whose airspace has been violated by these Chinese drones, thereby creating a regulatory nightmare for regulatory bodies like DGCA. India already has the basic framework for a solution, now it a question of adapting it to drones.
Such a system, if implemented, would be a global first that would find immediate buyers across the world among regulatory bodies. This could be a huge step forward towards India’s domination in drone technology globally.
(The author is the founder and CEO of Shree Sai Aerotech Innovations Pvt Ltd. and Zuppa, ‘the only Made in India’ drone.)