Wednesday, March 06, 2019

An electronic number plate key to check illegal drone menace

With increasing number of narrow escapes between airlines and drones recorded worldwide, an accident is just waiting to happen. There has been rapid growth in number of drones in last few years.
Owing to rapid increase in their numbers, frequency of drone violations over civilian airspace is surging and likely to become daily occurrences in next 2-3 years as the production and supply of these gadgets double.
One of the main causes of worry for India is that a majority of the drones are smuggled or imported from China, which is allegedly fitting these seemingly-harmless gadgets with technology that can be used for spying and can leak sensitive information, thus jeopardising the country's security.
Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) directive banning use of drones in October 2014 has caused rise in smuggling of these China-made machines to India. Drones since have become a lucrative business for grey market operators.
While over a million drones have been registered their drones under FAA's Drone Registration Program, none of the Indian drones have the license from DGCA's Digital Sky Initiative. This is primarily because they have been illegally purchased without proper paperwork.
In addition to the fact that they are not registered, drones cannot be traced on any radar - literally. In such a scenario, it becomes imperative for India to bring in a controlled hardware device to track drones in the country.  The "Unmanned Traffic Monitoring Solution (UTM)" will enable the regulators to identify drones on their monitoring system, which will help them segregate the legal and rouge ones. This essentially is an electronic number plate for each drone. The concept is much in line with the country's regulation of road vehicles.
This system being established by MORTH to handle a far higher volume of commercial vehicular traffic across India could easily be adapted to offer the existing drone operators in the Indian ecosystem a retrofit solution for their existing assets drones. This would enable them to ply their trade legally, a major incentive to come on board. This would further ensure that national security would be always at the top of the mind of the stakeholders in the civilian drone ecosystem.
Drones operate like vehicles, much like automobiles; hence rules and systems applicable to automobiles can be adapted and applied to them.
Moreover, a 'geo fence' at the airport and no fly zones will enable regulators to monitor and cancel flights in the event of any threat generated from drones.
It should be noted, however, that most drone users in India procured these gadgets to meet specific business requirements, but became victims of ineffective implementation of the DGCA's public notice and fraudulent import/market schemes.
Going forward, drones offer a huge commercial potential across a range of industries including agriculture and mining. It is therefore necessary to find a resolution and register the estimated 500,000 illegal drones in the country to explore a whole gamut of opportunities.
06/03/19 Sai Pattabiram/Business Today

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