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Draft drone rules may allow drone deliveries, but upcoming BVLOS ops are crucial

Drones

The draft drone rules, published last week may allow goods’ delivery via drones. This will also be determined by the result of Civil Aviation Ministry’s upcoming “beyond visual line of sight” (BVLOS) drone projects, the ministry clarified to MediaNama. “Once the BVLOS experiments are over and the detailed specs are notified by DGCA [Directorate General of Civil Aviation], the regulator may permit delivery of goods in a manner and procedure as may be prescribed,” Amber Dubey, joint secretary at the Civil Aviation Ministry, who oversees the drones division said.

Dubey also clarified that the Ministry will allow for such operations in a new notification, which “may come as a Civil Aviation Requirement (CAR)”, but will be “decided at a later date”. This is an important clarification because the DGCA has 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 for delivering goods over distances, and are a crucial use case of drones, especially for e-commerce companies. 

What are the upcoming BVLOS experiments? 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 “beyond visual line of sight” (BVLOS) drone projects in designated airspaces across the country.

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.


Read: DGCA has permitted at least 10 entities to pilot remote drone surveillance, delivery

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What was the confusion over delivery via drones? Because of two clauses under the draft rules, suggesting that:

  • No drone will be allowed to carry any payload unless specified by the DGCA [Clause 36], and
  • Nothing can be dropped from a drone except in a manner and procedure specified by the DGCA [Clause 38]

These clauses also seemed to be in conflict with another rule in the draft which talked about licenses for UTM service providers. UTMs are a key requirement for carrying out BVLOS operations, such as delivery or remote surveillance, and are essentially an air traffic management system for drones, except that they are an automated tool. Current drone regulations in India, which were enacted in December 2018, do not allow for BVLOS operations.

Dubey’s clarification means once the BVLOS projects are over and the DGCA has enough clarify over the safety, security, and viability of such operations, it can possibly exempt them from these clauses.

The draft Unmanned Aircraft System Rules, 2020, which were notified last week have also proposed 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. Stakeholders can submit their comments to the draft until July 3.

Read: Govt notifies draft drone rules which set the stage for remote drone operations

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