Drone Use for Agri-research Purpose Gets Government Approval

RPAS being used for agriculture - Aviatorsbuzz
Representational photograph of an RPAS being used for agriculture. Source: Twitter

The Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) and Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) have granted conditional exemption to the International Crops Research Institute (ICRISAT), Hyderabad, Telangana for the deployment of drones for agricultural research activities.

Amber Dubey, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Civil Aviation said, “Drones are poised to play a big role in agriculture sector in India especially in areas like precision agriculture, locust control and improvement in crop yield. The Government is encouraging young entrepreneurs and researchers to look at ruggedized low-cost drone solutions for the over 6.6 lakh villages in India.”

The conditional exemption is valid for 6 months from the date of issue of the letter or until the full operationalization of Digital Sky Platform (Phase-1), whichever is earlier. This exemption shall be valid only if all conditions and limitations as stated below are strictly adhered to. In case of violation of any condition, this exemption shall become null and void.

The operation of RPAS shall be restricted to day operations (from sunrise to Sunset), within Visual Line Of Sight (VLOS). ICRISAT shall have adequate level of insurance to cover any damage to third party resulting from accident I incident occurred during the operation of RPAS.

ICRISAT is also to ensure that hazardous material or variable payload are not carried in using the RPA under any circumstances along with ensuring safety, security and privacy of public, property, operator etc. Further, in case of any eventuality, DGCA shall not be held responsible.

ICRISAT is not to operate the RPAS in 10-fly zones specified in Para 13.1 of the CAR Section 3, Series X, Part I without the approval of concerned Ministries/ authorities and any incident/accident during at any phase of the operations, needs to be reported to the Air Safety Directorate of DGCA.

Drones Directorate

Meanwhile, ink42.com said that in a crucial step to give more wings to India’s evolving drone policy, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has received a nod from Union Finance Ministry to set up a dedicated Drones Directorate.

In a LinkedIn post, Amber Dubey, joint secretary at the Civil Aviation Ministry announced the decision. “The Directorate had been established with eight DGCA officials, to begin with and will be expanded with time. This was a pleasant surprise since, under the Covid-19 austerity measures, the formation of any new government department is being discouraged, unless really important. One more baby step towards making India the drone capital of the world,” Dubey said.

Currently, it’s unclear who the eight members of this department are. The directorate will have its own financial budget. The announcement was first reported by Medianama.

The directorate is likely to look into delays to roll out no permission, no takeoff (NPNT) support, manage drone training schools and approve third-party drone certification scheme to fast track drone certification in the country.

The idea to set up a dedicated Drones Directorate was first proposed in 2019, by the then Civil Aviation Minister Jayant Sinha, particularly to issue guidelines for drone operations, and for handling certification of drone pilots, among other things.

Since then, India has seen two different Civil Aviation Ministers in Suresh Prabhu, and the incumbent Hardeep Singh Puri while the drone ecosystem too has also changed quite significantly.

While the government is building the entire infrastructure for drone use in the country, it is also slowly and steadily allowing for more drone use. The COVID-19 pandemic saw a number of state governments deploy surveillance drones for containment exercises, but even beyond the pandemic, drones are now being deployed in multiple areas — including at critical infrastructure such as thermal power plants and now for agricultural research.


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