India Joins U.S. With Rules for Drones as Safety Concerns Mount

  • Proposes mandatory registration of all drones with regulator
  • Drones popular at Indian weddings, shooting of Bollywood films

India joined the U.S. and Japan by stepping in to regulate unmanned aerial vehicles as nations around the world scramble to tackle safety concerns drones pose along with the numerous benefits they bring.

The South Asian country is proposing to make it mandatory for all drones to be registered with the Directorate General of Civil Aviation, according to draft guidelines posted on the regulator’s website. Only Indians or companies controlled by Indians can register their drones under the suggested rules.

Regulation is necessary to minimize risks as technological advancements help drones increasingly find their way in civilian applications such as assessment of natural disasters, infrastructure monitoring and aerial mapping, India’s DGCA said. The U.S. in December required owners of consumer drones to register with the government, while Japan introduced rules including a ban on flights without permission in built-up areas. Australia and South Africa have introduced similar laws.

"Unmanned aircraft operations present problems to the regulator in terms of ensuring safety of other users of airspace and persons on the ground," the DGCA said in the guidelines. "They are also increasingly proliferating into recreational field and are likely to be used in many other domains."

Bollywood Films

India is proposing to exempt civilian drones flying below 200 feet above ground level in the new rules, if they do not get into restricted areas, and will also exempt aero modeling activities in educational institutions if they stay below 200 feet. The new rules will also ban sale and destruction of drones without informing the regulator.

Although it is illegal for a civilian to use drones in India at the moment, use of the tiny aircraft is common across lavish weddings, shooting of Bollywood films and hobby photography. The primary risk is that a drone may get sucked into an aircraft engine and cause the plane to crash. Even fairly small drones pose a major hazard to aviation, according to a study by Aero Kinetics Aviation LLC of Fort Worth, Texas.

A British Airways jetliner may have been hit by a drone earlier this month as it approached London’s Heathrow airport with 137 people on board, adding to security concerns. Three months after the U.S. Secret Service recovered a drone on the White House grounds, Kyodo News reported last April that another was found on the roof of the Japanese prime minister’s office.

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