The first phase of the DigiSky — a platform envisioned to primarily provide flight clearances for drone operations in India — will go live on October 2, Civil Aviation Ministry Joint Secretary Amber Dubey announced at a press conference on Thursday. Once live, the platform will integrate with other government entities, allow management of airspace workflows, plan drone flights, and log post-flight data submission among other things. IT services company Happiest Minds was tasked with developing the DigiSky platform.

The COVID-19 lockdowns have delayed the project quite a bit, Dubey said, even as he hoped that “most” of DigiSky’s functionality would be up and running by the October deadline. According to current drone regulations, a clearance is required from the DGCA before each drone takes flight. Called NPNT (no permission no takeoff), it is conceptually a green signal without which drones aren’t authorised to fly. It is the DigiSky platform that will give drones an NPNT clearance, essentially by providing a security key to it.

A functional DigiSky platform essentially means that only NPNT compliant drones will be able to dot India’s skylines, which drone regulations mandate. More importantly, a functional DigiSky platform allows various government agencies to obtain proper clearance to fly drones from the Civil Aviation Ministry, something that has hardly been adhered to so far — a fact which MediaNama has thoroughly documented in its reporting from Delhi, Mumbai, Amritsar, Kerala, and Telangana.

All green zones cleared for drones to fly: Dubey also revealed that drones can now fly in all green zones in the Indian airspace, which account for around 40% of its landmass. A meeting has been scheduled for Friday (July 17) to start clearing yellow zones as well. Green zones are basically free airspace areas, and are situated far away from sensitive areas such as airports. Yellow zones are controlled airspaces, over which permission will have to be taken to fly.

New fund for drone research: The Ministry is also working on a fund to aid research and development in the drone ecosystem called DISHA (Drone innovation for Security Healthcare and Agriculture). Sources close to the development told MediaNama that discussions around this fund are at a preliminary stage right now.

Remote drone ops, soon: The civil aviation regulator, DGCA, has allowed 13 consortia to experiment “beyond visual line of sight” (BVLOS) drone operations. These operations, though currently banned in India, essentially open up use cases such as deliveries via drones and remote surveillance. An important component of such drones is called a UTM, essentially an automated traffic management system for drones so that they can communicate while in flight. Before BVLOS operations begin formally, a UTM policy will have to be formulated, which is currently being drafted, Dubey said. We had exclusively reported on both these developments last month.

Drone identification numbers issued: As of June 30, over 20,000 drones had received an acknowledgement number from the DGCA, with the regulator estimating issue over 100,000 such acknowledgement numbers by the end of this year. We were also the first to report that the DGCA had restarted offering these acknowledgement numbers to legacy, or non-NPNT compliant drones, last month, so that they could be used in operations until the DigiSky platform becomes fully operational.