Aviation regulator, the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), has started the process of making guidelines for the civil use of drones, also known as unmanned aircraft systems. The guidelines are expected to be finalised in the next few months, and companies like Amazon and Flipkart might be able to use drones for delivery, by next year.
Drones are small aircraft systems, remotely controlled and is unmanned.
“The DGCA has restricted the use of drones in India at present, but at the same time it has initiated the process of framing the guidelines for operations,” a civil aviation ministry official said.
However, the use of drones is not restricted only because of guidelines in India — the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) also has not issued any recommendation or standards for the use of drones for civil purposes, said the official. Last year, the DGCA had put out a public notice restricting the civil use of drones in India.
Given that, India might still be one of the first countries to use drones for civil purposes, as the guidelines are on a fast track. Other civil aviation ministry officials said that issues that might compromise safety are being looked into at this moment, and it will take a couple of months to figure those out.
However, the use of drones are permitted in film-making, where shooting is done using drones from a height of 200 to 400 feet. Last year, US-based e-commerce giant Amazon was expected to start doing trials of delivery through drones in India. Reports even mentioned that Amazon will start delivery in the festive season of 2014, using drones, but the current regulations don’t permit such operations. Amazon officials were unavailable for comments.
Also, last year, a restaurant in Mumbai tested pizza delivery with a customised drone, where a pizza weighing half a kilogram was delivered in Lower Parel. The total time of delivery and the drone coming back was shorter than what a delivery boy takes — 30 minutes. Drones can do deliveries up to 8 km from the warehouse. Experts say that last-mile deliveries from dispatch centres can be done by drones, much faster.
In China, which has also taken drones seriously, domestic e-commerce giant Alibaba started trials of drones in February in Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou. Right now, trials of light packets up to 340 grams, are done by Taobao, a marketplace for sellers owned by Alibaba.
Amazon had showcased its drone in December of 2013 amongst a lot of fanfare, and later patented its drone-delivery process. However, the US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) is yet to give a go-ahead for widespread delivery using drones. Amazon’s efforts so far to convince FAA has not borne any results.