Ministry of Civil Aviation is meeting this month to deliberate on India’s drone-policy. R N Choubey, Secretary for Civil Aviation noted, “Drones are very dynamic; these rules will allow companies to deliver goods via drones to their customers provided they follow the norms. Both the aviation ministers wanted drones to be open for all to use, including businesses.”
The government considers that unmanned aircraft systems risk the safety of people on the ground, as well as other users of the airspace. For a pretty good reason. UK has seen 70+ drone near-misses in the last year alone.
In the meeting this month, the ministry will attempt to create a regulatory framework for usage of aerial vehicles. The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) released a draft of the framework last November.
The draft suggests that it will legally allow people to fly nano (under 250g in weight) and micro drones (under 2 kg in weight) below 200 ft outside the no-fly zones. Drones larger than 2 kg will need to carry a permit. Everyone flying a drone will be required to intimate the local police authorities when they do so.
To compare this with the world, more than half a million drones have been registered in the US with a simple registration form and a $5 fee. UK requires drone owners to register as well. Manufacturers, on the other hand, are liable to build in the technology that stops drones from entering specific zones.
Regulators have offered a cautious support across the world. Drone companies now need to find ways to overcome the operational hurdles that stand in the way. Some of them are unique to the Indian context.
Limited Carrying Capacity & Delivery Range
Most commercial drones in the market weigh close to 25 kgs and have a round-trip delivery range of 15 to 25 kilometers. These are good enough to make ~85% of the hyperlocal deliveries we currently do at Shadowfax. However, drones need to increase their capacity to truly become the delivery trucks that Paul Misener makes them out to be.
Find Open Areas to Make Deliveries
It is difficult for drones to deliver in apartment buildings and tight urban areas. Drones need an open space to land, in the case of Amazon, or drop packages like DelivAir and Flirtey. Indian cities consistently feature in the world’s most crowded cities and might as well require a unique solution to navigate the challenges well.
Avoid Attracting Target Shooters or Thieves
Fear of target shooters or thieves has also kept the experts concerned. Drones need to fly high enough to avoid them. Besides, Indian streets are all tangled up in wires at low elevations anyway, that are routine hacked by people living nearby to steal electricity. Technological solutions need to take care of these considerations on safety and security of the drone.
Keep the Tone Down
If you have ever lived along a busy street, you’ll relate to this problem better than others. A NASA study found that people found noise from drones more annoying than any other vehicle. Strangely enough, the noise of the drones at higher altitudes does not seem to make any difference.
Manage hyperlocal weather conditions
The current weather report covers important areas in the city as well as high altitudes where airplanes need to fly. Since drones weigh considerably less, they are more sensitive to the weather in the hyperlocal environment. The draft regulations suggested by the ministry prohibit flying drones during high winds and rains.
Drone deliveries face the operational and regulatory hurdles discussed above. To answer the original question, “No, we can expect to spend the next few years to solve the hurdles and create solutions that ultimately pave way for deliveries to happen via drone”.
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