The Directorate General of Civil Aviation is planning to allow more than just Flight Training Organisations to set up drone pilot training schools (Remote Pilot Training Organisations). The regulator has floated a draft circular that proposes to allow willing organisations under central and state governments, government-approved universities, and even private drone manufacturers to sign up as drone pilot training schools. This is a significant shift, because so far, the only organisations that have been allowed to operate as RPTOs are a handful of Flight Training Organisations authorised by the DGCA, and this draft essentially proposes to widen the scope of who can apply to become a drone pilot training school. The regulator has invited comments from relevant stakeholders on the draft until July 13.

Under the draft, the entities that can apply to become RPTOs are:

  • Central or state government or their undertaking or autonomous Bodies,
  • Government-approved universities,
  • DGCA approved FTOs, NSOPs, SOPs, Domestic CAR-147 approved Maintenance Training Organisations, CAR-145 approved CAMOs and CAR 21 approved Design Organisations,
  • Remotely Piloted Aircraft manufacturers

Entities willing to be RPTOs will first have to receive an NOC from the DGCA, which will be valid for a period of two years from the date of issue. After receiving the NOC, applicants are required to establish and obtain approval for setting up an RPTO within a period of two years. To apply for a NOC, an applicant will have to submit evidence of having funds of at least Rs 10 lakh in the form of paid-up capital, project report containing details of the proposed set-up including 3 years’ business plan, proposed financial structure, ownership pattern, time frame for operationalisation of the project, RPA types to be used and its suitability for flying training, human resource, and maintenance support, among other things.

Infrastructural requirements: The DGCA has also mandated certain infrastructural requirements that drone pilot training organisations will have to set up. Some of the requirements include:

  • Radio telephony training and testing facility.
  • A library with an adequate number of textbooks, e-books for ground subjects, regulations and remote flying techniques, DGCA circulars, aircraft manuals, civil aviation regulations and allied subjects
  • Flight operations and briefing rooms, a suitable place for parking, mooring and maintaining RPAs, properly marked bays, tracks and take-off and landing areas.
  • There should be one drone for every 10 students who attend the pilot training school.
  • Drone pilot training organisations must have at least three serviceable Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) of one type at any given time. RPAs are drones which can essentially be flown beyond the visual line of sight, without the pilot having to look at them physically to manoeuvre them.

Once an organisation manages to fulfil these infrastructural requirements, the DGCA will approve them as an RPTO, initially for a period of five years. RPTOs can apply for renewal of their license for an additional five years, but that will depend on “satisfactory compliance of requirements”.

DGCA’s oversight mandatory: RPTOs will have to allow the DGCA to inspect their facilities, equipment and records at any “reasonable time” in order to determine compliance with these regulations. RPTOs will also have to develop an information gathering, review, and distribution and revision control system to process information obtained from sources such as the DGCA, manufacturers, and equipment vendors.

Training program requirements: The training program syllabi will have to be designed as prescribed Civil Aviation Requirements Section 3 Series X Part 1. Other requirements include:

  • The training instructor will have to be an RPA pilot qualified on type of RPA which is used for training. This perhaps gives an edge to RPA manufacturers who might have expertise on flying the drones they themselves manufacture.
  • RPTOs will have to issue a course completion certificate to each student who completes its approved course and pass the exam, to be conducted at the end of the course. The pass percentage shall be minimum of 70% marks.

Govt notifies draft drone rules, looks to conduct remote drone operations

This draft comes after the government notified draft drone rules earlier this month, which look set to allow beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) operations, and bring drone traders under its ambit. The draft rules also propose establishing dedicated drone ports and corridors in “permitted areas if warranted by the nature and requirements” of drone operations, although separate licenses will have to be obtained from the regulator for those, yet unspecified, permitted areas. A drone can capture images as long as it is not flying over non-permissible areas, and after “ensuring the privacy of an individual and his property”, per the draft. It also said that no drone can be owned or operated in India unless it has been allotted a Unique Identification Number (UIN) by the DGCA.

DGCA has also allowed several drone and e-commerce companies to carry out BVLOS projects, essentially green-lighting them to test delivery of goods using drones, among other things. BVLOS operations are seen as a cost-effective way of delivering goods over distances, and are a crucial use case of drones, especially for e-commerce companies. At least 10 consortia, including Reliance-backed Asteria Aerospace, Nandan Nilekani-backed ShopX, Spicejet, and Google-backed Dunzo, among others have been permitted by the DGCA to carry out this experiment. This is being done under an effort by the DGCA to formulate regulations around commercial BVLOS drone operations, and the regulator is looking at these projects to gain insights into such operations. These consortia have until September to submit a proof of concept to the DGCA about learnings from their BVLOS projects.

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