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Indian UAV users flout the rules as regulator dawdles

26 July 2017
Indian civil aviation regulator DGCA has been slow to fulfil its promise to produce flexible rules for UAV operators (pictured is the Curiosity Quadcopter made by New Delhi-based OM UAV Systems). Source: OM UAV Systems

The DGCA has pledged to issue flexible operating rules but they remain unpromulgated – meanwhile, UAV operators simply ignore the existing blanket ban

Intrusion by unidentified unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in and around Indian airports has caused security alerts, as experts warn of serious threats to approaching or departing aircraft. The risks are an indication of what can happen when regulators try to restrict an air navigation hazard with heavy-handed rules.

The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) banned all UAVs from Indian airspace in 2014, unless they had specific permission to fly, pending the release of more flexible comprehensive rules.

Yet such permissions have rarely been forthcoming, and the promised flexible rules remain unpublished. While the DGCA promises movement on this issue, for the time being it appears that operators of small UAVs (particularly hobbyists) are able to flout the existing rules.

“Incidents of drone use around airports keep on happening and it is not easy to shoot them down as they are small objects,” Vijay Prakash Agarwal, ex-chairman of the Airports Authority of India, told Jane’s . There is a clear flight safety risk if UAVs stray into aircraft approach paths near airports; Agarwal recommended diverting flights if such risks are spotted.

P Gourishankar, chief security officer at Cochin International Airport, noted to Jane’s that his teams constantly look for threats from unmanned aircraft. “Once they come close to the airport, they can go into the engine, damage the aircraft, and can even lead to a crash,” he explained.

UAVs can also be used for surveillance or hostile reconnaissance by terrorists, warned Kishu Teckchandani, CEO of New Delhi-based India Aviation Consulting & Support. “If someone wants to penetrate or infiltrate into an airport, he can use live video [shots] from a drone,” he said.

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