The Intricacies of Drone Delivery in India
One of the most awaited developments in the electronic commerce market has just begun to spread its wings in the air. With the consent of the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), 7 companies including food delivery companies: Dunzo, Swiggy & Zomato, medical delivery companies: Zipline & Redwing, large enterprises including Tata Advanced Systems Limited & Honeywell can now conduct the testing of beyond the visual line of sight (BVLOS) drone delivery systems.
The companies having a BVLOS permit will have to conduct a test of at least 100 hours of flight time by 30th September 2020. The logs of the test will be submitted to the DGCA and the data will be used for further experimentation and policy-making. The government will have to scrutinize the reports and data collected by the tests conducted by the consortium. The biggest hurdle in operating a proper Drone Delivery System is the safety and the legal nuances.
ISSUES TO COMBAT
The BVLOS drones are controlled by a Pilot in Command (PiC), who can watch video from the drone’s point of view (POV) that are live-streamed using the cameras mounted on the drone. When the drones will make deliveries, it’ll pass by residential houses, private buildings and stream the footage in due course. It raises a concern of privacy for the dwellers of the said premises around which the drones will fly. As of now, India is yet to formulate specific Data Privacy Policies related to drones.
We have encountered the events of theft in the current e-commerce delivery system as well but the drone delivery system is expected to be more prone to theft as it’ll have no human intervention to protect itself or the package. How the point of delivery will be specified is also a question of discussion. Will the drone drop the package on the street, in the courtyard, balcony, through the window, or on the terrace? If the package is left unattended, there are high chances of it being lost. There’s a possibility of drone abuse as well when it will propagate towards the ground for making the delivery as miscreants can attempt to damage the drone in due course. Instances of drone shooting & abuse have been recorded in different parts of the world already.
The drone manufacturers focus on efficiency and safety but chances of mishaps still persist. If a drone crashes or meets an accident during a flight, there is a high risk to life of humans, plants, and animals. In such a scenario, the liability of the mishap & procedure of investigation, are yet to be devised under law. So far, Remote Piloted Aircraft (RPA) or Unmanned Drones are governed by Civil Aviation Requirement (CAR) issued by the DGCA.
(i) CAR Section 3 - Air Transport Series - X Part 1 Issue I dated 29 August 2018;
(ii) AIP Supplement 164 of 2018 issued by the Airports Authority of India dated 30 November 2019;
(iii) the DGCA RPAS Guidance Manual issued on 3 June 2019 by the DGCA
As far as the punishment is concerned, it is currently governed by the Indian Penal Code, 1860.
Section 287: Negligent conduct with respect to machinery - carrying a maximum sentence of imprisonment that may extend to six months or a fine that may extend up to 1,000 Indian rupees, or both.
Section 336: Act endangering life or personal safety of others - carrying a maximum sentence of imprisonment that may extend to three months or a fine that may extend to 250 rupees, or both.
Section 337: Causing hurt by an act endangering the life or personal safety of others - carrying a maximum sentence of imprisonment that may extend to six months or a fine that may extend to 500 rupees, or both.
Section 338: Causing grievous hurt by an act endangering the life or personal safety of others - carrying a maximum sentence of imprisonment that may extend to two years or a fine that may extend to 1,000 rupees, or both.
Penalties for contravention or failure to comply with any rules or directions issued under Rule 133A of the Aircraft Rules 1939 (the rule under which CARs are issued), are punishable to the extent of imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or a fine not exceeding 200,000 rupees or both. The drones are expensive machinery and incur high repair costs if damaged. The CAR mandates drone operators to have a 3rd Party Insurance, but no minimum insurance bar has been set forth. Considering the risk to life as well as property, comprehensive insurance shall be mandated and the insurance bar shall be set by the authorities.
4. Illegal Usage
Though the drones are capable of automated flight operations, yet human surveillance is still going to persist in the initial years. Drones can be used with malafide intentions as well. Drone related crimes may hike and it’ll be difficult to nab the perpetrators.
As per the prevailing regulations in India, a drone has to be registered with DGCA via the Digital Sky Platform, and the pilot has to obtain a license or an ‘Unmanned Aerial Operator Permit' (UAOP). India observes ‘No permission, No Take-off’ (NPNT) policy which means that the pilot has to obtain a permit before every flight. If the drone delivery system starts operating in India, the NPNT policy will no longer be practical. With the high volume of drone operations, illegal drones may get infused in the sky. Being a computer-controlled device, drones are vulnerable to threats like hacking, spoofing, or jamming.
The irregularity in weather causes turbulence even in airlines that are of much heavier weight and possess more powerful engines than the drones that are going to be used. Drone delivery might not be possible in extreme weather conditions but a safety protocol shall be devised to combat a situation where the drone encounters irregularity in weather during an ongoing flight.
6. Air Traffic Control (ATC)
Currently, the ATC for drones is controlled jointly by the Airports Authority of India (AAI) & DGCA. With the advent of the Drone Delivery System, a dedicated entity to monitor drones and ensure safety as well as curb illegal drone usage would be required.
7. Power Resources & Efficiency
The drone delivery system will reduce transportation time. As per recent tests, a delivery drone can cover a distance of 5 KMs in a span of 10 minutes, attaining a maximum linear velocity of 80 KMPH. The power utilisation is inversely proportional to the velocity of operation, hence a bigger and efficient power reserve is required for a commercial delivery drone.
The use of drones will reduce the level of air pollution caused by delivery vehicles. But, the carbon footprint might not be affected much as most drones are battery powered and require electricity to be charged. Solar power could be an answer to the issue. Titan Aerospace, which was acquired by Alphabet, a Google company created a solar-powered drone. Alphabet’s Project Wing has already tested Solar-Powered Drone Delivery Services. Amazon’s Prime Air has successfully executed its first autonomous delivery back in 2016.
8. Intellectual Property
India’s RPA Policy is in consonance with the National IPR Policy that was formulated in 2016. With inventions in the drone domain, a patent war has evolved among giants dealing with drone technologies. Amazon has applied for a patent for its delivery system drone that is capable of delivering products within 30 minutes of the order. DroneTek, an Indianapolis based company received a U.S. patent for solar-powered drone delivery ‘mailbox’. Boeing has obtained a patent for its airborne & waterborne ‘Flying Submarine’.
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
Arthur C. Clarke
The time contains the answers to our assumptions and calculations. The future will depend on the tests that are conducted and the policies that the government frames to combat the issues pertaining to drone deliveries. Science has always astonished us with inventions. The law will protect us from the disastrous implications of technology. Till then let’s wait and let the magic happen.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
This blog has been authored by Md. Atif Ahmad who is a Final Year B.B.A., LL.B. (Hons.) student at Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University.
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