The government has proposed allowing delivery of goods by drones, paving the way for commercial applications in the field. In drone policy 2.0, unveiled on Tuesday, the government has proposed permitting their operations beyond the visual line of sight.
“Commercial UAS (unmanned aerial system) operations will foster various new forms of air freight capabilities, such as creation of supply chain relay networks for delivery of payload, transport of temperature-sensitive commodities like bodily organs, emergency or just-in-time deliveries of life-saving medicines or safe blood for transfusions and collection of patient specimens for delivery to laboratory for time-sensitive testing,” the document said. The updated version of drone policy was unveiled by Minister of State for Civil Aviation Jayant Sinha at the Global Aviation Summit.
“There are opportunities for our aviation sector and for India's start-up industry as India is set to become a global leader as far as the drone ecosystem is concerned. It's important for us to have a policy road map and regulations that support the growth of the drone ecosystem,” Sinha said.
A person aware of the development said that delivery by drones was permitted after multiple food delivery companies such as Zomato and Swiggy had demanded it.
However, the proposal is a recommendation and a task force led by the civil aviation secretary and the director general of civil aviation finalise the guidelines. “The technical specifications and finer details will be finalised by the task force,” the person said.
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E-commerce major Amazon has used a drone to deliver a bag of popcorn to an address in rural England in the first commercial outing for a technology that is the US group’s boldest step towards automating deliveries.
For the same purpose, the government intends to build ports where drones can land and take off.
“Droneports are proposed to be designated areas dedicated to facilitate take-off and landing of the drones. Licensing of such ports may be granted by the authorities concerned upon meeting the prescribed technical specification,” the document says.
In August, the ministry released the first version of drone policy, which makes it legal for individuals and companies to operate drones in certain areas other than those barred for security reasons. The ministry, however, held back approval of the commercial use of drones as taxis, delivery vehicles, and other services.
According to the regulations, there are five categories of drones by weight: Nano, micro, small, medium and large. For flying in controlled airspace, the filing of a flight plan and obtaining Air Defence Clearance (ADC)/Flight Information Centre (FIC) number will be necessary. The regulation defines “no-drone zones” as areas around airports, near the international border, Vijay Chowk in New Delhi, state secretariat complexes in state capitals, and strategic locations and vital military installations.
A case under the Indian Penal Code can be filed for flying a drone in a prohibited zone.
This is a “forward-thinking step by the government, and will change the whole delivery model”, said Rabindra Jhunjhunwala, partner at law firm Khaitan & Co. “At the same time appropriate safety nets will have to be built. The devil will lie in the detail,” he added.
Drone manufacturers, however, said the government had been conservative in its policy. An executive of a Bengaluru-based drone manufacturer said any drone intended for commercial use like delivery of payload would invariably weigh more than 2 kg and fall in the bracket of a medium to large category, needing permission every time it is operated. “This will increase the regulatory hurdle,” he said.
However, Sinha stressed the importance of safety and said it was important to take measures which would keep the airspace safe.