The Ministry of Civil Aviation has provided conditional exemptions to government entities for operating COVID-19 related Remotely Piloted Aircraft System, commonly known as drones.
The development comes as an effort to address the challenges imposed by the coronavirus outbreak through the usage of drones.
According to the statement provided by the ministry, drones deployed by an authorized entity for aerial surveillance, aerial photography, and public announcements related to COVID-19 have been granted an exemption to conduct their experimental flights.
These experimental flights will be conducted only with rotary-wing drones and will have to be conducted by trained operators under the supervision of a monitoring team. The usage of any other type of RPA (Remotely Piloted Aircraft), including but not limited to fixed-wing RPA and autonomous RPA, etc. is also strictly prohibited, said the order.
Also, it is mandatory for drones to have a unique identification number (UIN) or drone acknowledgment number (DAN) issued by the DGCA. While the drones cannot exceed a total weight of 25 kg, they are allowed to operate only within visual sight of lines (VLOS) at all times along with no person allowed to act as a remote pilot for more than one drone at any time.
For other drone-related activities, permission would be sought separately from the ministry and the director-general of civil aviation (DGCA) as per normal procedure, added the statement.
The notice has also stated a few restrictions for RPA’s to operate. While the RPA cannot operate within a distance of 5 km from the perimeter of airports at Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata, Bengaluru, and Hyderabad, they also are not allowed to operate within 3 km from the perimeter of any civil, private or defense airports.
In addition, they are exempted to operate beyond 25 km from the international border which includes the line of control, actual ground position line, and line of actual control.
India has been under a lockdown since March 25 to contain the coronavirus pandemic. All commercial passenger flight operations have been suspended for this time period. The step to allow government-operated drones during the pandemic will surely help the government to address a few challenges.
In another order issued by the ministry last month, 13 consortia were granted an exemption to carry out their BVLOS experimental flights of drones under the supervision of the monitoring team. This exemption will be valid until 30 September.
Two months back, DGCA had also drafted new guidelines to promote the legal adoption of drone operations and increase the number of organizations imparting training to drone pilots in India. As per an estimate, there are over 50,000 illegal drones operating in the country.