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Last Updated : Jan 14, 2020 08:45 PM IST | Source: PTI

Security concerns to vital installations prompted govt to order drone census: Officials

The Civil Aviation ministry on January 13 announced that all drone operators in the country will have to mandatorily register their UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) by January 31, with officials saying a large number of drones are operating without complying with prescribed guidelines.

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Representational Image

Concerns over incidents of Pakistan-origin drones dropping weapons into Punjab, disruption in services at Gatwick airport after UAVs were sighted and the killing of a top Iranian commander in a drone-launched attack prompted the government to order the registration of all civilian drones, officials said on January 14.

The Civil Aviation ministry on January 13 announced that all drone operators in the country will have to mandatorily register their UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) by January 31, with officials saying a large number of drones are operating without complying with prescribed guidelines.

The January 3 killing of Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani in a drone-launched missile attack gave the task of putting in a framework to regulate civilian drones a sense of urgency even though there was not much to compare in terms of the UAVs used, they said.

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The mandatory registration of drones was initiated considering the possible threats to security of airports and other vital installations from unregulated drones, the officials said.

At the same time, they said there was no comparison between use of the military-grade large unmanned aerial vehicle to kill Soleimani and drones being used in India.

"But the incident brought some kind of urgency in having a framework for carrying out a census of the drones," an official told PTI. An MQ-9 long endurance drone armed with laser-guided Hellfire air-to-surface missiles was used to hit Soleimani's convoy when it was leaving the Baghdad airport.

The drone used was a high-grade machine, which has a 66-ft wingspan and can fly higher than a passenger aircraft.

"Though India does not have similar drones, the incident made us think about possible security concerns from unregulated civilian drones to flight operations," said an official.

He said the reports of Pakistan-origin drones dropping weapons into Punjab last year and flight services being disrupted for close to 70 hours in UK's Gatwick airport in 2018 after sighting of UAVs made the ministry think about ways to regulate the operation of drones in India.

An industry expert said drones in operation in India range from 250 grams to around 50 kg and are mostly used for commercial purposes.

In October last year, the Civil Aviation ministry came out with a policy document primarily to deal with possible security challenges from rogue drones to key installations like nuclear power plants and military bases.

It said it was a matter of concern that small drones were proliferating at a rate that has alarmed battlefield commanders and planners alike.

"The utilisation of armed drones by extremist groups to carry out reconnaissance and targeting strategic Israeli installations during Israel-Lebanon war is an example of escalation of terrorist and insurgent drone capabilities," according to the document.

The policy document said multiple incidents of sightings of drones in the vicinity of commercial airliners and major airports like New Delhi and Mumbai have raised flight safety concerns.

"Further, the upsurge in drone use has also increased the threat quotient for VVIPs who can be targeted through the rogue drones," it said.

There is no official data about the number of civilian drones operating in India.

Vipul Singh, co-founder and CEO of Bengaluru-based drone company Aarav Unmanned Systems Pvt Ltd, told PTI that over four lakh drones are operating without necessary regulatory permissions in his estimate.

However, Ankit Mehta, co-chair of industry chamber FICCI's committee on drones, said in October last year that the number is between 50,000 and 60,000.

Asked whether the government's move on mandatory registration of drones was influenced by Soleimani's killing and the dropping of weapons by Pakistani-origin drone in Punjab, Mehta said every incident is adding to the "noise".

"But the point is very simple... that ultimately the point and scale of the problem can only be understood after people share how many systems they have with them," he said.

Singh said people flying drones near airports can pose a threat to flight operations.

"There are cases where people, may be out of pure ignorance, are flying drones near airports...So those things are a little tricky. It is important to tackle them. That is why they (government) want that the ownership of drones should be clear," Singh added.

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First Published on Jan 14, 2020 08:40 pm
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