Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Drone Takeoff

New Delhi: It's perhaps the largest drone manufacturer in the country but Navi Mumbai-based ideaForge was a typical start-up till not too long ago. It was founded by four friends from IIT-Bombay, who built the world's smallest and lightest autopilot - the brain inside a drone system - and the first indigenous micro unmanned aerial vehicle. The technology gave them entry into defence, particularly the Defence Research & Development Organisation, which gave them their first big order. Today, ideaForge says it supplies over 90 per cent of drones procured by the government.

ideaForge's focus on the government is not incidental. The government has been the biggest legitimate procurer of drones in India ever since a Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) notice in 2014 prohibited their use for civilian purposes, killing at birth what could have been a huge industry, helping tens of different sectors, by now. For instance, in 2014 Amazon had announced that it would make India a test bed for Prime Air Service, its drone delivery arm. The plan could not go anywhere. Mumbai-based Fransesco's Pizzeria tried to deliver a pizza on a drone but ran into police.
However, all this is set to change with the new drone regulations 1.0 - which allow operators to fly after taking clearance through a mobile app - that kicked in from December 1 last year. The easing of the rules is expected to trigger a boom in the use of drones by both enterprises (public/private) and private service providers.
Under drone regulations 1.0, the airspace has been partitioned into Red Zone (flying not permitted), Yellow Zone (controlled) and Green Zone (automatic permission). Though these are still fairly restrictive and allow only visual line-of-sight daytime and 400-feet altitude flights, apart from barring under-the-radar operations, the Ministry of Civil Aviation is already in the middle of preparing draft guidelines 2.0 which will relax such restrictions to a large extent (see How the Sector Will be Opened Up).
The policy prescribes issuance of UIN (unique identification number) and UAOP (unmanned aircraft operator permit), which are similar to number plate and driving licence, respectively. "Getting permission is going to be a paperless process. It's a futuristic policy," says Vignesh Santhanam, President, Drone Federation of India.
08/01/19 Manu Kaushik/Business Today