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Delhi airport scare: 3 years on, DGCA yet to frame guidelines for drones

Flight operations at Delhi airport were halted twice for around two hours on Sunday after pilots of two airlines spotted a drone-like object in the area even as security agencies went into a tizzy. The aviation regulator is yet to frame a policy to regulate flying, sale and purchase of UAVs.

delhi Updated: Aug 21, 2017 23:14 IST
Delhi airport,Delhi IGI airport,Delhi airport drone
The aviation regulator, Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), is yet to come out with a formal policy to regulate flying, sale and purchase of sub-conventional aerial platforms such as microlight aircrafts, para motors, multi-copters, para gliders, hang gliders and drones.(HT Photo)

In a first, the Delhi Police on Monday filed an FIR in connection with alleged sighting of an unidentified flying object over the Delhi Airport. The FIR was filed on the complaint by Airports Authority of India.

The police have invoked section 188 (violation of a government order) against unknown persons.

Flight operations at Delhi airport were halted twice for around two hours on Sunday after pilots of two airlines spotted a drone-like object in the area even as security agencies went into a tizzy.

The pilot of an international airline first noticed a flying object during landing which led to the closure of runways from 11. 20 am to 12.20 pm. In the evening, a pilot of Air Asia spotted a similar object and informed the ground staff, following which flight operations were halted for 40 minutes.

The incident has highlighted the lack of clarity about the legality or the absence of it when it comes to regulation of drones. The aviation regulator, Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), is yet to come out with a formal policy to regulate flying, sale and purchase of sub-conventional aerial platforms such as microlight aircrafts, para motors, multi-copters, para gliders, hang gliders and drones.

“Policy is in the works,” said a security source.

In the absence of a policy, the DGCA on October 7, 2014 issued a public notice though which it banned flying of any unmanned aircraft in the country’s airspace.

It also said that till the process to formulate the regulations are on, no individual or private organization can fly any unmanned aircraft in the Indian civil airspace without its permission.

However, DGCA is yet to come out with the any regulation in consultation with more than half a dozen stakeholders such as Bureau of Civil Aviation Security, Airports Authority of India, Ministry of Civil Aviation, etc.

On April 22, 2016, it uploaded a draft circular on “Guidelines for Obtaining Unique Identification Number (UIN) & Operation of Civil Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS)”, in which it had proposed to issue a UIN for any unmanned aircraft including even a toy helicopter.

Sources said standard operating procedures (SoPs) for handling threats from drones and other sub-conventional aerial platforms for Delhi were issued by the Union home ministry in August last year but such SoPs for the rest of the country and border areas are yet to be issued.

Last year in September, replying to an HT’s application under RTI, Hillol Biswas, Director, (Aircraft Engineering), DGCA, said it received more than 500 responses. But Biswas refused to provide any time frame that DGCA assigned to finalise the regulations.

Ramesh Tahlan, (Retd) IAF, and an aero-modeller enthusiast, says, “The DGCA should immediately come out with regulations and differentiate between uses such as hobby, toys or professionals.”

“The blanket ban is a draconian step and violations are bound to happen,” he said.

“It’s like issuing a driving licence. You don’t need licence to drive a toy car.”

Aviation experts also point out the futility of a blanket ban on flying of drones when its sale and purchase hasn’t been regulated.

“There is no law which stops me from possessing a drone but if I fly it, it’s a violation,” says a retd pilot requesting anonymity.

Websites in India sell unmanned aircrafts like helicopters and aeroplanes which can fly up to more than 1,000 feet.

Those who are selling multi-copters and drones ask buyers to provide government permissions but that’s not enforced strictly in the absence of a law.

First Published: Aug 21, 2017 23:14 IST