Use of UAVs with the right safety measures is the inevitable future, both nationally and globally
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Growing in Power

Use of UAVs with the right safety measures is the inevitable future, both nationally and globally

Lt Gen. B.S. Pawar (retd) Lt Gen. B.S. Pawar (retd)

Since their inception, unmanned aircraft vehicles (UAV) have operated on a limited basis in the national airspace of respective countries and largely remained military and law enforcement devices, supporting military and border security operations.

However, pressure has been mounting from private sector and industry, as well as a host of potential civilian users, seeking permission from the regulatory bodies for their commercial and environmental applications going beyond the package, pizza and wine delivery tasks.

Today, the civil applications encompass a broad range of activities to include aerial photography, surveying land and crops, communications and broadcast, monitoring forest fires and environmental conditions, protecting critical infrastructures etc – the list is endless. Initial attempts at commercial use of UAVs in a number of countries, specially the US, were blocked by their respective aviation regulators like the US Federal Aviation Administrator (FAA), akin to our own Indian regulator, the Director General Civil Aviation (DGCA), mainly due to the perceived obstacles/ challenges, related to Federal and state regulatory approvals, public safety, reliability, individual privacy, operator training and certification issues, security and payload thievery.

However, the US has finally taken a lead in the UAV civil regulatory area, with the FAA putting into effect its first operational rules (Part 107) for routine civil and commercial use of small UAVs (non-hobbyist), designed to minimise risks to other aircraft and people and property on the ground. These rules officially took effect on 29 August 2016, setting in place several processes to help the UAV users. In the words of FAA Administrator Michael Huerta ‘with these rules we have created an environment in which emerging technology can be rapidly introduced while protecting the safety of the world’s busiest and most complex airspace’.

Other nations are also likely to take a cue from this and move forward in this area. Britain, France, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and UAE already have some norms for commercial use of drones. It is pertinent to note that while the world is still debating the safety of self-driving cars, the city-state of Dubai in UAE is preparing to launch a ‘Drone Taxi’ in July this year. India’s DGCA has also issued a ‘Draft Air Transport Circular’ in February last year setting guidelines for operations of UAVs in the civil and commercial domain. Like the FAA the DGCA sought feedback from various stakeholders, both government and non-government, including industry by May 2016. As per reports, a notification on the same is expected to be put into effect sometimes this year – current DGCA regulations do not allow commercial use of drones. While it is not inconceivable to think that within the next five or certainly 10 years the civil use of UAVs is likely to increase phenomenally and become commonplace in a number of countries, the critical issues related to security, safety and privacy could become the roadblock to its growth.

In the military domain, on the other hand, the past decade has seen the UAVs progressing from being minor players in the Intelligence and Situational Awareness (ISA) role to being a key part of combat operations as seen in Iraq, Afghanistan, tribal areas of Pakistan and Yemen, with single platforms now capable of achieving the entire Find, Fix, Track, Engage and Assess kill chain. UAVs today are providing exclusive capability to forces engaged in sub conventional operations, especially in the global war on terrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

DRDOs Rustom
DRDO’s Rustom

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