The Indian Directorate General of Civil Aviation has released draft guidelines regarding the commercial use of drones. Carnegie India, in association with the Consortium of Unmanned Vehicle Systems India (CUVSI) and the International Foundation for Aviation and Development, India (IFFAAD), brought together experts from the defense sector, government, and the industry to discuss these draft guidelines at the day-long UAV 2016 conference. Participants in the various panel discussions included C. Raja Mohan and Ananth Padmanabhan from Carnegie India, Dr. Sanat Kaul from IFFAAD and representatives from the World Wildlife Fund, India (WWF), and other stakeholders.

Discussion Highlights

  • Civilian Application of UAVs: At the outset, participants unanimously agreed that Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) have immense potential in the civilian sector. They have uses beyond traditional commercial uses such as product delivery; UAVs could help in everything from aiding in rescue operations during natural disasters to aerial mapping, blood delivery and environmental protection. Participants pointed out that an early start has already been made by employing UAVs in maintenance of roadways and power lines. For the true potential of UAVs to be exploited, however, participants agreed that a suitable regulatory framework needs to be in place.
  • UAVs and Privacy: Participants argued that UAVs pose a significant threat to privacy protection, since they are able to collect data and images without the knowledge of the target. It was also pointed out that privacy protection in India is still very underdeveloped. Participants agreed that any UAV policy must provide for adequate liability in case of breach of an individual’s privacy.
  • Integrating UAVs in Civilian Airspace: The integration of drones into non-segregated air space could pose immense technological challenges, such as lack of collision and traffic avoidance system and lost links. Participants stressed the importance of developing public awareness for putting UAVs in the commercial market. They also agreed that there is a real need to develop adequate infrastructure to ensure tracking and control of UAVs in civilian airspace.
  • Regulatory Challenges of UAVs: Ananth Padmanabhan of Carnegie India explained how technology in India must shape the laws and not vice versa. He stated that there has been a paradigm shift from a centralized to a decentralized system built on changing notions of enhanced access. There is a need to look at this model through three stages—first, the pre-incidence stage, which involves issues of training, equipment, payload, and collision avoidance systems; second, the incident stage, which includes safeguards during the flight; and third, the post-incidence stage, which occurs when authorities centralize the data base and create channels to disseminate information efficiently. Padmanabhan argued that an optimal regulatory framework must be one that facilitates technological growth rather than hampers it.  Carnegie India’s C. Raja Mohan argued that regulatory frameworks need to balance the two ends of the spectrum; over-securitization on one hand and expansion of innovation and technology on the other.
  • The Future of the UAV Industry in India: The conference ended with a panel discussion that examined, among other things, the funding requirements in the UAV industry in India and the hurdles faced by investors and manufacturers. Some participants described the government’s position as ‘reactionary’ rather than ‘proactive’ in integrating the UAVs into the commercial space. Participants suggested the Ministry of Science and Technology should be d to enable a more proactive approach and to help in developing ground-based systems and other UAV-friendly infrastructure. Participants also suggested creating training centers, which could also be used for research. While noting that the present draft regulations are woefully inadequate, participants agreed that working at the intersection of technology, business, and law by involving civilians, the armed forces, and regulatory authorities is the way forward.