With the onset of pandemic that took over the world this year, people have been forced to stay inside their homes, as a result of which e-commerce business has grown and gained immense popularity these days. The competition has forced the companies to come up with innovative and creative ways to ensure efficiency and earn profits. One of the biggest outcomes of this innovative approach is the speculations amongst these e-commerce businesses to inculcate the use of unmanned aircraft systems, or drones, in delivery. Drones can be an effective and time efficient way of delivering goods. In 2013, Amazon came up with the idea of using drones for delivery, and the services were slated to begin in select cities in 2019, which is still awaiting materialisation.
In India, Director General of Civil Aviation (“DGCA”) is the authority responsible for looking after regulations related to Drone systems. On June 20, 2020, Draft Unmanned Aircraft System Rules, 2020 (“UAS Rules”) were released by DGCA, under the powers given to the Central Government under the Aircraft Act, 1934. The draft which was released a few months back, is yet to be notified.
Some of the key points of the draft UAS Rules are:
- 1 The rules will extend to whole of India, and to the drones registered in India even when operating outside the Indian territory.
- 2 All persons who wish to own or possess, or to engage in importing, manufacturing, trading, leasing, operating, transferring, or maintaining drones in India will be covered under the regulations.
- 3 There are various categories under which drones are categorised. For e-commerce businesses, Autonomous Unmanned Aircraft System are the ones that are relevant. These are the drones that do not require intervention by pilots in their operations.
- 4. The rules prohibit unmanned aerial vehicles from dropping of articles or carrying any payload until the DGCA explicitly specifies so.
- 5. Anyone who wants to inculcate or engage in the Drone ecosystems need to get themselves registered. The e-commerce companies may be required to get themselves registered as UAS Owner or Operator, with the DGCA, which will issue a unique number to them. This registration shall be valid for a period of 5 years, unless suspended, revoked, or cancelled.
- 6. In terms of eligibility criteria, the applicant which is an India Company has to ensure that substantial
- 7. It shall also be important for the operator to obtain a valid third-party insurance policy to cover the liability that may arise due to any mishap, such as bodily injury or death to any person.
- 8. Drone ports will be set up, which basically means drone airports, for the purpose of landing and taking off of drones. For using these drone ports as well, it will be important for the companies to register with DGCA.
While the Unmanned Aircraft System Rules, 2020 are still a draft and not yet put into force, it is pertinent to look into the current regulations that are actually in force. On December 1, 2018, the DGCA had issued guidelines, also known as Drone Regulations 1.0 for commercial use of drones. Some of the key points are,
- 1. All drones must be registered with a Unique Identification Number (UIN), except those which fall under the Nano Category (Less than or equal to 250 grams).
- 2. Except for the nano drones who are to be flown below 50 feet and micro drones which are to be flown below 200 feet, for the rest, permit is required for commercial use and operations.
- . Drone pilots must maintain a direct visual line of sight at all times while flying.
- 4. Drones cannot be flown more than 400 feet vertically.
- 5. Drones cannot be flown in areas specified as “No Fly Zones”, which include areas such as State Secretariat Complex in State Capitals, strategic locations, and military installations.
- 6. Permission to fly in controlled airspace can be obtained by filing a flight plan and obtaining a unique Air Defense Clearance (ADC)/Flight Information Center (FIC) number.
Under the Drone Regulation 1.0, a platform to enable online registration was set up, known as Digital Sky Platform. It provides for a compliance mechanism wherein day to day permission is to be sought by the operator in order to fly a drone. This is known as No Permission, No Take-Off (NPNT). The permission will be granted via the Digital Sky Platform after submission of the UIN of the drone and UAOP number of the operator together with purpose and area in which it would be flying. The purpose of NPNT is to regulate the air traffic with respect to drones. The system is a great way to regulate operation and flying of the drones, however, the biggest downside of this is that it is still at the beta stage and it is not legally possible yet to get the NPNT permission certificate yet, as a result, making it impossible to fly drones in India other than the ones that don’t require such permissions.
Meanwhile, with the Drone Regulations 1.0 partly in place, works upon the Drone Regulations 2.0 have already begun, by the government of India. One of the significant aspects of these regulations is that the reviews over the Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS), which will be a huge boon for the e-commerce companies, if put in place successfully. The draft of drone regulations have been issued almost 18 months after the DGCA has given a green flag to proceed with experiments and testing with drones, and five companies, including Swiggy, Zomato, Dunzo and Throttle Airspace have registered themselves for the experiments. The said draft essentially prohibits dropping of articles and carrying payload by “unmanned aerial vehicles”, i.e., drones, which clashes with the DGCA’s consent on the experiments being conducted and with the interests of the companies involved. However, the Ministry of Civil Aviation is working upon a set of rules to regulate e-commerce via drones, which, according to an official of the ministry, might be out in another year or so. Given the slow and complicated process of deliberations and clearances, one year seems to be a pretty optimistic time frame, and hopefully the Regulations 2.0 will provide answers for the future of further advancements in the field e-commerce in India. If the experiments are successful and the idea is materialised, very soon, there will be drones delivering goods at our doorsteps within a short span of time.