While civilian drones are becoming popular across the globe, very few countries have regulations governing it.
Earlier this week two employees of real estate portal housing.com were detained after they were caught flying a drone near Chembur. The Mumbai Police claim the drone operated by the two had a camera attached to it and they were taking photographs of nearby buildings for the website.
According to DCP (Zone VI) Sangramsinh Nishandar “no one can take pictures from such devices without prior permission from the police” in Mumbai. However, there is a problem. There has actually been a ban on flying drones in India since October 2014, but not everyone is really aware of it. And this has not resulted in a stop on the sale of drones in India through online e-tailers and even toy store. While the cheapest drones cost as low as Rs 2,000, none of them carry any warning saying it is not legal to fly drones in India.
The ban will be in place for private organisations and individuals till the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) works out regulations for commercial use of drones. And that is not going to be easy given that the move will require clearance from the air navigation service provider, the ministries of defence and home affairs as well as other agencies concerned.
While civilian drones are becoming popular across the globe, very few countries have regulations governing it. In May 2015, the United States notified regulations for use of what it calls Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), but called it a challenging for both the FAA and the aviation community as it had the busiest, most complex airspace in the world.
The rules specify that user have to:
-Fly below 400 feet and remain clear of surrounding obstacles
-Keep the aircraft within visual line of sight at all times
-Remain well clear of and do not interfere with manned aircraft operations
-Don’t fly within 5 miles of an airport unless you contact the airport and control tower before flying
-Don’t fly near people or stadiums
-Don’t fly an aircraft that weighs more than 55 lbs (25kg)
-Don’t be careless or reckless with your unmanned aircraft – you could be fined for endangering people or other aircraft
Over and above this, the national capital region of Washington DC is a no fly zone.
The US regulations stipulate the statutory parameters of a model aircraft operation and permit individuals flying within the scope of these parameters to do so without any permissions. “Any flight outside these parameters (including any non-hobby, non-recreational operation) requires FAA authorization,” say the rules. “For example, using a UAS to take photos for your personal use is recreational; using the same device to take photographs or videos for compensation or sale to another individual would be considered a non-recreational operation.”
Interestingly, in New Zealand users are allowed to fly drones — termed RPAS (Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems ) in the rules — “only in daylight”. Privacy also gets a mention in the rules, and onus is on the organisations and individuals to have a very good reason for collecting personal information in the form of photographs and video. “We would expect them to take care on how the images were used and who they were shown to”. Plus, these aircraft “must use the right radio frequencies, so they don’t cause harmful interference to vital radio systems such as air traffic control, cellular phones, or emergency services”. Violations could end up in prosecution.
The other area that needs clarification is drone journalism becoming popular among many news organisations. During the protests in 2013 there were occasions where up to 50 drones were covering the melee on the streets of Bangkok. One of them, owned by a YouTube user called The CyberJom ended up shooting a lot of action which the power did not want the world to see.
Soon after, Thailand made drone videos shot by civilians without prior permission illegal. Violators are liable to be punished by a year in prison and a fine. There have been instances in India too where journalists have been detained for shooting video using a drone. Another good reason why we need to have a law on all unmanned aerial aircraft at the earliest.