Legalisation of Drones – COVID-19 Impact

The Article endeavors to demystify the growing need of drones amidst the COVID-19 pandemic in accordance with the privacy issues. Further, this article insights into the advantages of UAVs in current scenario and highlights the examples being set by the various countries towards the adoption of drone post lock down. 

“The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word ‘crisis’. One brush stroke stands for danger: the other for opportunity. In a crisis, be aware of the danger–but recognize the opportunity.”

John F Kennedy

Introduction

COVID-19 cases increasing rapidly all over the country have greatly impacted our livelihood. It is certain to work toward rebuilding our community and businesses in the post- COVID world. The technology is evolving with the need for social distancing among the people all over the world. The demand for robots and drones has increased with safety rules and regulations being implemented. The drone industry is buzzling as these Drones- unmanned Aerial vehicles are proving to be crucial tools in carrying out surveillance and sanitisation activities.   

History of drones in India

In August 2018, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (the “DGCA“) under the governance of Aviation Ministry, introduced the rules and regulations or the civil aviation requirements[1] for the operation of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) commonly known as drones. The above safety norms and requirements get implemented on 1st December 2018. A ‘drone task force’[2] was also introduced by the DGCA for the further security of the citizens from drone threats.

Since a long time, drones have got popular among the companies enabling them to capture aerial images and videos. In short, the drones got the legalisation by the Aviation Ministry in December, 2018. It was expected that the market of drones would rise after the legalisation norms, but the statistics since then has not improved much.Earlier, delivery of goods and food was restricted due to the ban on e-commerce functioning under the drone regulations 1.0 but later, it was stated by the Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) that the drones can be used for the purposes of e-commerce as well which in turn boosted the drone production. At present, drones are legalised for commercial purposes under the Digital Sky rules in accordance with drone regulations 2.0.

Drones around the world

The drones started their fever monitoring services for the first time in China. The Covid-19 spread made the authorities to use drones for keeping an eye on the social distancing among people. Drones are being regarded as the “front line defenders” all over the world with their increasing advantages of spraying disinfectants at public gatherings such as hospitals, factories, residential areas, and water treatment plants. Countries like China and USA are using UAVs for broadcasting public safety messages on banner of the drones. Moreover, drones fitted with loudspeakers have been launched to spread awareness guidelines.

The drone regulations for different countries lay down different minimum qualifications for the training of drone pilots. All around the world, the demand for training schools is rising at a high pace. To encourage new technology, the Drone guidelines have set out certain areas as test sites to facilitate research and development by recognized Indian organizations to test or demonstrate aspects related to drones.

Countries like UK have started Amazon delivery services through drone machinery system increasing the service rate to a large amount. In India, the above is still restricted by the Aviation Ministry under regulations 12.18 and 12.19 of the Drone Regulations[3].

Tackling the Privacy- trespass and other threats

Privacy and security threats have always been the dark side of drone technology. In 2014, ban was imposed on the drones in India by the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) due to the privacy concerns. Several policies were formulated, and rules were set up to overcome the misuse of drone technology since then. In India, including the penal actions under IPC, CARs (Civil Aviation Requirements) and Aircraft Act 1934 governs the UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicle) activities.

Trespassing by the drones or Aerial trespass can be defined as the operation of drones or any UAV in the airspace of the landowner’s property without the prior consent of the landowner and with a intention to interfere with the use and enjoyment of the landowner’s Property. Further, the determination of the intention to intervene with the landowner’s privacy depends upon the amount of time of the drone in that specific airspace, the altitude at which it is being operated, audio-video recording bugs, actual harm caused to property, purpose of flying and the no. of times drone came in the area.

To prove the intention of the operator beyond reasonable doubt, the time of day the drone caused the damage, or the interference plays a crucial role. Landing of the drone on plaintiff’s land or physically touching of drone to any structure, plant life or any individual would amount to aerial trespass. Moreover, this is offence is actionable per se allowing the person (whose land is trespassed) to sue the offender even if no actual harm has been caused. For instance, trespassing a public place with drone without any intention or without causing any actual damage will impose the liability on the accused.

 In the case of U.S. v. Causby[4], a plane came down to 83 feet of the ground while landing at the airport. But during landing it travelled over the Causby’s farm and due to less altitude of the plane, the chickens of Causby’s farm stopped laying eggs and even some of them died due to the harsh noise of the plane. Causby unwantedly abandoned the business and sued the govt. for committing aerial trespass. The Supreme Court of the US held that the airspace over the farm’s land would be considered under the ownership of the landowner and the area above a particular altitude would be considered as the air space available for public traffic or the navigable air space. Therefore, the government plane was held liable for trespassing the airspace coming in the range of 83 feet from the Causby’s farm and was ordered to pay damages to the Causby’s family.

Another important thing to note is that a plane or a drone is considered to be trespassing the land or airspace if it flies below navigable airspace but above private property.

IPC does not deal directly with the concerns of drone. But drone being a machinery comes under ambit of S. 287[5] of IPC which states the punishment for using any machinery negligently. Further, S. 336[6], 337[7] and 338[8] of the IPC deals with the acts causing threat to human life, hurt to a person and grievous hurt to someone, respectively.

The threat is evident from the case which occurred in Mumbai. The police arrested 3 people for using drones over a particular restricted ground and booked them under Section 188 (disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant), Section 336 (act endangering life or personal safety of others) and Section 287 (negligent conduct with respect to machinery) of the IPC. At that time, the rules made for aviation and UAVs were not consolidated and many cases of drones regarding the infringement of privacy were also registered under the sections of IPC. But now,stringent rules and guidelines have been set by the DGCA in the Drone Regulations as well as in the Aircraft Act 1934

Advantages of UAVS TO COVID-19 World

The usage of these machines has extended to vast extend.

  • Earlier, this machinery was used largely in terror-prone territories like J & K Lal Chowk to announce restrictions on the movement of people and to update them with latest news.  Recently, FICCI (Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry) committee on drones have stated drones as the need of the hour and focused on reinforcing drones with megaphones and other devices to minimise the spread of corona virus.
  • Drones are being used for lockdown surveillance purposes by the police to maintain social distancing among people and spread awareness in densely populated areas.
  • Spraying disinfectant in containment zones and checking people’s temperature by using infrared thermal devices is being greatly appreciated and have got success lately.
  • Drone taxis as well as capacity of drones to do large scale work like city and village mapping is being targeted by the researchers. 
  • Further, these remote-controlled UAVs are proving to be a boon for the media sector by shooting live videos of the sealed-contaminated zones where entry for the outsiders is prohibited.
  • Other miscellaneous uses of drones are aerial photography and videography, solar mapping, topography analysis, and mining and construction researches.

Limitations of drones

As India is a developing country and going through a transition phase with difficulties and pandemic terror, it will definitely face some challenges including regulatory inconsistencies,security and privacy concerns.

With the increasing use of drones and the emerging air traffic, the chance of accidents will increase gradually. Therefore, designated safe areas has to be established for emergency landings and flight terminations. Drones and big UAVs require separate non-public zones for take-off and landing purposes. According to the CAR(Civil Aviation Requirements), one drone can only be operated by one person and operating it beyond this limit is prohibited.

Further, restriction on transporting of hazardous substances through zones also acts as a limitation, the loophole being what is hazardous and what is non-hazardous nowhere been provided.

The cleaning of passage while carrying special substances, mitigation measures and cost of damages, drone maintenance cost and the availability of suitable environment acts as a limitation hindering the growth of drone industry.

A wayforward

With these limitations and privacy threats, media channels have to take permission from the police department and have to register their drones with a UIN. Moreover, precautions must be taken to avoid the risk of drones entering into restricted zones like and airport’s airspace or military zone.

The cost of 3rd party insurance that the Drone operators has to ensure before getting a license is high. The liability of any damages to 3rd party in any situation lies on the drone operator. Every drone operator has a unique license and a unique identificationnumber (UIN) which has to be operated within the data privacy guidelines. The consumer Protection act. 1986 safeguards the interest of drone operators from the issues concerning with defective drones manufacturing and shifts the liability on the manufactures.  It has been evident in the military and the defence sector, that the utilisation of drones has been increasing since the legalisation of it. Other sectors such as agriculture and infrastructure are also progressing with drone machinery.

National Technical Research Organization (NTRO), Aviation Research Centre (ARC) and Central Intelligence agencies are also getting benefited from the use of UAVs. A secured digital sky platform has been made by the government for the application and registration procedure for getting a drone license.

Conclusion

With the maximum support of government and the lenient drone-policy framework set forward, the drone industry is constantly rising. This big step by the Govt. of India shows the commitment of our govt towards a developing India and initiates the use of artificial intelligence for technological and economic growth.

The drone start-ups have come forward in extending their support to government to win the battle over novel coronavirus. Even most of the companies are not charging cost for its operation. 

The Kerala police have launched a project named ‘Eagle eye’ in which they will use the inbuilt police sirens and flashing lights in the drones not only to identify and prosecute the offenders but also to scare and chase them away. Maharashtra-the most suffering state due to pandemic is using data analytics and drone to deal with containment in crowded places.

With the new ideas of using drones for supplying medical items and testing samples, the drone machinery is evolving at a high pace and is proving to be a boon for the world. Legalisation of drones in India has largely affected the technological ecosystem of the country in a positive manner. With proper implementation and supervision, security threats are being minimised and the chances of collisions and accidents are getting reduced. More importantly, foreign ownership of the drones is fully restricted in India to avoid privacy threats.

With implementation of Drone regulations provided by DGCA, efficiency and ease of Digital Sky Platform and upgradation in mobile application networks, drone machinery is proving to be a key player in new-age technology.

References

https://www.dentons.com/en/insights/alerts/2020/april/14/drones-to-the-rescue-legality-of-innovative-drone-uses-to-battle-covid19

http://www.pib.nic.in/PressReleseDetail.aspx?PRID=1544087.

http://dgca.nic.in/cars/D3X-X1.pdf

http://indianexpress.com/article/cities/mumbai/mumbai-businessman-who-rents-drones-for-movie-shoots-two-employees-held-3094087/


[1]http://dgca.nic.in/cars/D3X-X1.pdf.

[2]http://www.pib.nic.in/PressReleseDetail.aspx?PRID=1544087

[3]Regulations 12.18 and 12.19 – A drone shall not discharge or drop substances unless specially allowed and shall not transfer any animal or human payload.

[4]U.S. v. Causby, 328 U.S. 256 (1946)

[5]287. Negligent conduct with respect to machinery.—Whoever does, with any machinery, any act so rashly or negligently as to endan­ger human life, or to be likely to cause hurt or injury to any other person, or knowingly or negligently omits to take such order with any machinery in his possession or under his care as is sufficient to guard against any probable danger to human life from such machin­ery, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to six months, or with fine which may extend to one thousand rupees, or with both.

[6]336. Act endangering life or personal safety of others.—Whoever does any act so rashly or negligently as to endanger human life or the personal safety of others, shall be punished with impris­onment of either description for a term which may extend to three months, or with fine which may extend to two hundred and fifty rupees, or with both.

[7]337. Causing hurt by act endangering life or personal safety of others.—Whoever causes hurt to any person by doing any act so rashly or negligently as to endanger human life, or the personal safety of others, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to six months, or with fine which may extend to five hundred rupees, or with both.

[8]338. Causing grievous hurt by act endangering life or personal safety of others.—Whoever causes grievous hurt to any person by doing any act so rashly or negligently as to endanger human life, or the personal safety of others, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine which may extend to one thousand rupees, or with both.

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