DRONES AND CIVIL AVIATION

The va­ri­ety and num­ber of UAVs in the non-mil­i­tary seg­ment, the roles th­ese are be­ing em­ployed in and their ca­pa­bil­ity as well as per­for­mance lev­els, are mul­ti­ply­ing rapidly

SP's Airbuz - - Front Page - BY B. K. PANDEY

ON SUN­DAY, AU­GUST 20, 2017, flight op­er­a­tions at Indira Gandhi In­ter­na­tional Airport at Delhi, one of the busiest in the coun­try op­er­at­ing around 70 flights in an hour i.e. more than one flight ev­ery minute on an av­er­age, had to be sus­pended tem­po­rar­ily when late in the evening, a Drone was spot­ted on one of the three run­ways by a pi­lot of an AirAsia In­dia air­craft that was com­ing in to land. On fur­ther in­ves­ti­ga­tion it was dis­cov­ered that the Drone spot­ted by the pi­lot was be­ing op­er­ated by civil­ian pho­tog­ra­phers with­out any author­ity or clear­ance, to cover a pri­vate func­tion in the vicin­ity of the airport. Flight by the Drone was clearly unau­tho­rised and it goes with­out say­ing that such un­reg­u­lated op­er­a­tions by Drones, more ap­pro­pri­ately known as Un­manned Aerial Ve­hi­cles (UAVs), in the vicin­ity of air­ports or in con­trolled civil air space, are in­deed be­com­ing is a se­ri­ous haz­ard to safety of manned air­craft op­er­at­ing in a reg­u­lated en­vi­ron­ment not only in In­dia, but in all other parts of the world as well. UAV – MIL­I­TARY AND CIVIL. UAVs have been em­ployed for years by the armed forces of sev­eral na­tions across the globe in­clud­ing In­dia, in a va­ri­ety of roles. The list of coun­tries us­ing mil­i­tary UAVs, as well as the roles in which th­ese are em­ployed, con­tinue to ex­pand and cover hith­erto un­ex­plored ar­eas even in­clud­ing aerial com­bat. To­day, the United States Air Force (USAF) trains more UAV op­er­a­tors also called “Re­mote Pilots” than pilots for manned air­craft ev­ery year. In fact, Robert Gates, the former Sec­re­tary of De­fence when he was in of­fice, had stated

that the F-35, the lat­est fifth-gen­er­a­tion air­craft from Lock­heed Martin, is likely to be the last manned fighter the USAF will buy. Even if the prog­no­sis does not come true, there is lit­tle doubt that mil­i­tary UAVs will con­tinue to pro­lif­er­ate all over the world. In the next two decades, the strength of mil­i­tary UAVs in Is­rael is pre­dicted to ex­ceed the strength of manned air­craft. While the rate of growth of un­manned plat­forms in In­dia, may not be as high as in the West­ern na­tions, the fact is that even with the rate at which this seg­ment is grow­ing at present or is likely to grow in the fore­see­able fu­ture, will add a new di­men­sion to the prob­lem of air traf­fic man­age­ment in civil aviation across the na­tion.

In In­dia, op­er­a­tions by mil­i­tary UAVs are gen­er­ally un­der­taken in airspace con­trolled by the mil­i­tary. In the civil aviation do­main, UAVs are op­er­ated by agen­cies both within and out­side the govern­ment. UAVs em­ployed in non-mil­i­tary ap­pli­ca­tions are gen­er­ally smaller in size as com­pared to those used by the mil­i­tary and th­ese have been and are be­ing em­ployed for mis­sions re­lated to search and res­cue, dis­as­ter man­age­ment, aerial film­ing, sur­vey, crop spray­ing and in­spec­tion of power or pipe lines. All th­ese op­er­a­tions are gen­er­ally un­der­taken at very low al­ti­tudes and as such have not usu­ally been in con­flict with reg­u­lar manned air traf­fic in con­trolled civil air space ex­cept when car­ried out in the vicin­ity of active air­ports as in the case of the episode at Delhi airport cited above.

What is note­wor­thy is that the va­ri­ety and num­ber of UAVs in the non-mil­i­tary seg­ment, the roles th­ese are be­ing em­ployed in and their ca­pa­bil­ity as well as per­for­mance lev­els are mul­ti­ply­ing rapidly. In view of the im­mense po­ten­tial UAVs have to of­fer in the civil do­main, their rapid growth is in­evitable. As such, the re­sul­tant im­pli­ca­tions of air op­er­a­tions in the do­main of civil aviation will un­doubt­edly be se­ri­ous and can no longer be ig­nored. As per the Direc­torate Gen­eral of Civil Aviation (DGCA), the civil aviation reg­u­la­tory author­ity in In­dia, it has be­come nec­es­sary to in­tro­duce ap­pro­pri­ate reg­u­la­tory mech­a­nisms to en­sure the proper in­te­gra­tion of op­er­a­tions by UAVs with manned air­craft op­er­at­ing in con­trolled civil air space. This is nec­es­sary and vi­tal for the safety of manned air traf­fic. INTEGRATING UAVS IN CIVIL­IAN AIRSPACE. The in­te­gra­tion of op­er­a­tions by UAVs into con­trolled civil air space will, with­out doubt, in­volve a va­ri­ety of com­plex op­er­a­tional, pro­ce­dural and tech­no­log­i­cal chal­lenges. For UAVs to op­er­ate in con­trolled airspace, th­ese plat­forms will need to meet the same level of air­wor­thi­ness re­quire­ments as manned air­craft to be cer­ti­fied by the DGCA. Each of the el­e­ments and tech­nol­ogy that make an aerial plat­form un­manned such as the “sense-and-avoid” sys­tem, will re­quire its own air­wor­thi­ness cer­ti­fi­ca­tion. This is where the in­dus­try and the reg­u­la­tory author­ity will need to in­ter­act and co­or­di­nate their ef­forts.

Just as in the case of a manned air­craft, for a UAV that is in flight, there are three ar­eas in which in­ter­face will be nec­es­sary. Th­ese are firstly be­tween the Re­mote Pi­lot con­trol­ling the UAV from the ground, sec­ondly, be­tween the UAV and the Air Traf­fic Con­trol Cen­tre (ATC) and thirdly, be­tween the UAV and the other traf­fic, both manned and un­manned, op­er­at­ing in the same airspace. At present, UAVs are not fully au­ton­o­mous and as such, re­li­a­bil­ity of the data link, di­rect or through satel­lites, be­tween the un­manned plat­form in flight and the Re­mote Pi­lot who may be sit­ting on the ground even thou­sands of miles away, would be of crit­i­cal im­por­tance.

The in­te­gra­tion of un­manned plat­forms with manned air­craft traf­fic in na­tional air space will re­quire re­view of cur­rent poli­cies, pro­ce­dures, stan­dards, reg­u­la­tions, en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact, pri­vacy and le­gal is­sues, iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of de­fi­cien­cies in cur­rent UAV tech­nolo­gies and de­vel­op­ment of new tech­nolo­gies. The new tech­nolo­gies will have to be de­vel­oped that will make the UAV fully au­ton­o­mous. There will also be a need for a mas­sive up­grade of ground based Air Traf­fic Con­trol sys­tem and re­lated in­fra­struc­ture with clear thrust to­wards to­tal au­to­ma­tion. THE IN­DIAN SCENE. While the US and Europe are lead­ing global ef­forts for the in­te­gra­tion of UAVs with manned air traf­fic in civil airspace, In­dia is un­for­tu­nately lag­ging far be­hind. The fact is that de­vel­op­ments in the regime of UAVs in the civil do­main have not been as im­pres­sive as in the West and this is at­trib­ut­able to the ab­sence of favourable poli­cies and reg­u­la­tions to en­cour­age indige­nous de­sign, de­vel­op­ment and man­u­fac­ture of un­manned plat­forms. This seg­ment of the aviation in­dus­try also suf­fers from the ab­sence of se­cu­rity guide­lines as well as lack of suit­able mech­a­nism to en­force th­ese even if th­ese were avail­able. This is one rea­son why there has been un­reg­u­lated pro­lif­er­a­tion of UAVs in In­dia re­sult­ing in un­manned plat­forms be­com­ing a se­ri­ous se­cu­rity haz­ard.

In 2014, the DGCA had is­sued a public no­tice pro­hibit­ing the launch of a UAV by pri­vate in­di­vid­u­als or any non-gov­ern­men­tal agency. This re­stric­tion was im­posed on ac­count of se­cu­rity con­cerns as UAVs whose op­er­a­tions are not prop­erly reg­u­lated, could be used by anti-na­tional el­e­ments to carry out at­tacks against vi­tal in­stal­la­tions or public places. Un­for­tu­nately, such a no­ti­fi­ca­tion would un­wit­tint­gly have been a se­ri­ous dis­in­cen­tive for en­trepreneurs de­sirous of in­vest­ing in the In­dian aerospace in­dus­try in the pri­vate sec­tor for re­search and de­vel­op­ment of UAVs. Also, as of now, there are no reg­u­la­tions for cer­ti­fi­ca­tion of Re­mote Pilots and UAVs in In­dia.

Two years later, in April 2016, the DGCA is­sued a fresh cir­cu­lar in which the reg­u­la­tor ob­served that UAVs are pro­lif­er­at­ing into the recre­ational field and are likely to be used in sev­eral other do­mains caus­ing prob­lems for the reg­u­la­tor with re­gard to safety of other users of airspace as well as per­sons and in­fra­struc­ture on the ground. The reg­u­la­tor stated that in view of tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vance­ments in this field over the years and their in­creased civil ap­pli­ca­tions, it has be­come nec­es­sary to de­velop guid­ance ma­te­rial to regulate this ac­tiv­ity. In this cir­cu­lar, the reg­u­la­tor laid down guide­lines for ob­tain­ing Unique Iden­ti­fi­ca­tion Num­ber (UIN) as well as for op­er­a­tion of UAVs in civil airspace. How­ever, there were no con­crete steps to­wards proper in­te­gra­tion of UAVs with manned air traf­fic.

In the wake of the in­ci­dent at Delhi airport on Au­gust 20 this year, the DGCA has revived ef­forts to regulate the use of UAVs and has an­nounced its in­tent to come out with a draft reg­u­la­tion for op­er­a­tion of UAVs in the near fu­ture. How­ever, proper in­te­gra­tion through au­to­ma­tion of UAVs as well as the air traf­fic con­trol sys­tem is still far away. Reg­u­la­tory measures on paper will only im­pede the growth of UAVs in In­dian airspace.

IN THE WAKE OF THE IN­CI­DENT AT DELHI AIRPORT ON AU­GUST 20 THIS YEAR, THE DGCA HAS REVIVED EF­FORTS TO REGULATE THE USE OF UAVS

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