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Commercial application of drones to extend to energy, mining

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In this article discussion is about drones and their applications in various field. Due to their wider applications there has been discussion about the regulation of these dronesUnmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) or drones are finding strong commercial application in sectors ranging from agriculture, to energy, to insurance, to mining among others.


What is a drone?

An unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), commonly known as a drone, is an aircraft without a human pilot aboard. UAVs are a component of an unmanned aircraft system (UAS); which include a UAV, a ground-based controller, and a system of communications between the two. The flight of UAVs may operate with various degrees of autonomy: either under remote control by a human operator or autonomously by onboard computers


Growth of Drones:

  • Commercial applications are growing due to falling prices and technological innovations such as collision avoidance, autonomous flight mode, home return and first-person-view (FPV) which have made drone systems relatively easy to use across a wide variety of applications.
  • The commercial drone hardware market is estimated to be around $ 0.7 bn by 2020 growing at a CAGR of 33% per year with Average Selling Price almost double when compared to the consumer drone segment.
  • Goldman Sachs last March estimated the global spending on drones to be $100 billion in five years led by applications in mapping and construction, where drones can cut down surveying time by as much as 98%.


Applications of UAV:

  • Delivery vehicle: Drone delivery is often positioned as a promising area of drone deployment. Several companies are testing their potential ranging from package delivery (Amazon Prime Air) to providing emergency support services (e.g. Flirtey, Zipline) where drones can be used to deliver supplies in remote or otherwise difficult to reach areas.
  • Aero monitoring of projects: such as construction of railway line, river basin development.
  • Disaster management: assessment of impact of flood, identification of most hit areas, efficient allocation of relief material.
  • Drought management: aerial survey of cropping intensity, damage to crops, to estimate the losses.
  • Forest management and environment conservation: assessment of degraded areas, deforestation activities, monitoring of forests.
  • Wildlife conservation and planning: proposals for wildlife corridors by monitoring movement of animals.
  • Commercial Applications: In agriculture, they can monitor variability in crops, determining optimal levels of irrigation, pesticide and fertiliser use. The results are available much faster compared to traditional methods and the saving in time and input costs leads to improved yields, revenue and margins for farmers.
  • People are using drones for aerial photography and for those gorgeous wedding shots.


Now, as we are well aware of the applications of the drones. The discussion about the regulation of drones keeps emerging.  Let us discuss some challenges faced by this industry.


Challenges Ahead:

  • Regulatory Hurdles: Even though adoption across certain industry segments has been increasing, regulatory issues remain a stumbling block to broader deployment of drones in the commercial sector. Regulations vary by country, though most currently require drone operators to have “line of sight” contact with the drone always. This limits the distances that drones can fly from the user or base. Mandatory registration of drones beyond a certain weight is also a requirement in many countries.
  • Today’s drones have limited flight endurance and payload capacity: Today’s drones can only fly for 15 to 30 minutes before they need to swap out or recharge batteries. And while there are drones that can carry payloads up to twenty pounds, five pounds or less is more common. To complicate matters further, there’s an inverse relationship between payload weight and flight endurance: increase the payload and you get less flight time.
  • Concerns among the public about privacy, security, and safety: The public is understandably concerned about issues surrounding the use of drones. No one wants drones peeking into their windows. People may approve of law enforcement using drones to track down fleeing suspects, but they worry about government agencies using drones to spy on innocent citizens. And these days, everyone fears terrorists using drones to scout out targets or even deliver explosives.
  • Pizza delivery and apparel delivery from Amazon will not work here in India because the traffic management will become a big mess and this will create chaos and DGCA will not be able to handle this madness.


Regulations issued by Indian Government:

  • There are 5 types of drones: nano, micro, mini, small and large.
  • Whenever you operate a drone, you will need different approval. Apart from nano drones, all other categories will need an air defence clearance so that aviation as well as security authorities are aware of the flight path.
  • There will be no-drone zones such as above operational aerodromes and within 5 km of Vijay Chowk in Delhi, within 500 metres from strategic locations, from mobile platforms such as car, ship or air craft, over eco-sensitive zones like national parks and wildlife sanctuaries (unless approved by Environment Ministry).
  • Drones less than 2 kg and operating under 200 feet of height, once registered, can be flown without nods.
  • Drones can be used for photography, medical uses, ad film making and so on. E-commerce companies should be able to use drones as well.
  • Air-rickshaws or passenger drones can also be considered under this policy.
  • All unmanned aircraft intended to be operated in India will require a Unique Identification Number (UIN) issued from DGCA.
  • UA OPERATOR PERMIT (UAOP): All civil UA operations at or above 200ft AGL in uncontrolled airspace for any purpose whatsoever will require UAOP from DGCA.
  • Validity of UAOP shall be for period of two years from date of issue and is not transferrable. Renewal of NOC shall require security clearance from MHA & BCAS.
    • The UAS (issued with UIN) shall not be sold or disposed of in any way to any person or firm without permission from DGCA.
    • The owner/operator shall be responsible for the safe custody, security and access control of the UAS. In case of loss of UA, the operator shall report immediately to local administration/ police, BCAS and DGCA.
    • The operator shall ensure that all security measures are in place before operation of each flight.
    • Owner/operator is responsible for notifying any incident/accident during flying of the UA to Director of Air Safety, DGCA and BCAS within 24 hours
  • TRAINING REQUIREMENTS FOR REMOTE PILOTS - Remote pilot should have attained 18 years of age and have thorough ground training equivalent to that undertaken by aircrew of manned aircraft or a PPL holder (aeroplane/ helicopter) with FRTOL.
  • INSURANCE: All civil UAOP holders shall have insurance with the liability that they might incur for any damage to third parties resulting from the accident/incident.
  • ENFORCEMENT ACTION: The UAOP issued by DGCA shall be cancelled or suspended at any time if in the opinion of the DGCA, the performance of the Remote Pilot /maintenance of UAS is no longer to an acceptable standard.


The way forward:

Commercial drone usage would increase in emerging sectors like insurance, telecom and delivery with a rise in drones as a service model. Regulatory objective of safety, security of the civilians must be balanced with need for innovation, growth in the UAV sector to leverage the UAV technology.