DGCA, India’s civil aviation regulator, has approved third-parties to carry out certification of civilian drones. The Quality Council of India (QCI) will choose the third-party certification bodies soon, according to Amber Dubey, joint secretary at the Civil Aviation Ministry, and incharge of the drones division. The move is expected to increase exports of Indian made drones.
Who can be a certification body? Only a “legal entity” can be accredited as a certification body — so that it can be legally held responsible for its work irrespective of whether the entire organisation or a part of it performs the certification functions. QCI explained that certification bodies which are part of government, or are government departments, will be deemed as legal entities on the basis of their governmental status. It is not clear how a non-government body can be made a “legal entity” in this case.
Drones compliant with the “no permission no takeoff” (NPNT) protocol will also be certified by certification bodies, and the process will ensure that they meet applicable regulatory requirements and international acceptability. The scheme is applicable to both domestic drone manufacturers, as well as drone importers. The certification system will be based on international standards (ISO/IEC 17067:2013). Bodies chosen by the QCI will “eventually” be accredited as per the international standard ISO 17065, by the National Accreditation Board for Certification Bodies (NABCB), a constituent Board of the QCI.
India’s draft drone rules, which were published earlier this year mandate that drones have a “Certificate of Manufacture” to indicate whether they were manufactured in India or were imported. This certificate will be issued by testing laboratories or organisations approved by the DGCA. Manufacturers and importers will be allowed to choose the labs at which they wish to get their drones tested. Testing laboratories will have to submit a test report and recommendations to the DGCA, based on which they may issue the certificates.
Drones will be certified on the basis of their category, weight, type, dimensions, remaining life, and geo-fencing capability, among other things. For now, all but large category drones — which weigh more than 150 kilograms — can be certified under the scheme. Drone manufacturers or importers will also have to specify compatible payloads (things that a drone can carry), with details such as the weight, specifications, and purpose of usage of the payload. Other things that will be certified include:
- Drones will also be certified on the basis of “hardware tamper avoidance” — how well they can protect the onboard computer from being tampered. For a satisfactory result, the certification body would replace flight-critical components of a drone using an “unauthorised procedure”, and the drone’s propellors should not start. Every change of hardware should be recorded by the manufacturer and documents will have to be made available to the certification bodies or DGCA for inspection.
- A certification body will also check that there is no way to bypass a drone’s NPNT functionality. This has to be done by scrutinising the design, and comparing it with the final implementation. NPNT is a crucial part of ensuring that drones’ flights remains safe and secure. It also allows the government to have a log of the number of NPNT compliant drones, along with details on when and where they were flown.
- A manufacturer will also have to demonstrate that a drone has “detect and avoid capability”, which allows drones to avoid mid-air collisions.
- Endurance of drones will also be certified. For drones powered by batteries, the manufacturer will have to submit test reports from an accredited testing laboratory determining the rate of discharge of battery with a charge capacity of more than 85% at all times.
Governing structure of the scheme
A multi-stakeholder steering committee will be chaired by a “seasoned professional” who is “well respected by Government and Industry alike”. It will oversee the scheme along with a QCI secretariat. The steering committee will also be supported by a technical committee and a certification committee that will be constituted by QCI. It is unclear how the DGCA or QCI will appoint this “seasoned professional”. The steering committee will have to meet at least once a year.
Representatives from the Civil Aviation Ministry, DGCA, Airports Authority of India, DRDO, IITs, among others will be a part of the multi-stakeholder committee. All committees will be reconstituted every two years to provide representation to organisations like industry associations, certification bodies etc. by rotation. No “single interest” — various Ministries, defence establishments, and drone companies among others — should predominate the committees.
“The entire system has provisions for accepting complaints from any stakeholder against any component of the Scheme,” DGCA and QCI said. Manufacturing units certified under the scheme, certification and accreditation bodies are all required to have a complaints system in place. Complaints can also be made to the DGCA, who will then forward them to the QCI for further action. A statement on complaints, along with their status will have to be reported to the steering committee in each meeting.