Want To Fly a Drone in India? Sign Up On Digital Sky First

As expected, the Indian drone regulations come into effect from 1 December much to the excitement of the drone fraternity and enthusiasts.

And as is the case with most government-operated activities, the drone regulations have been laid down, after working on it for almost four years. The draft fine print was first revealed a few months back for public scrutiny.

After all the wait, drones can officially take off with the right set of permissions, which like almost everything in the country these days, has been digitised for a simplified process.

You have a platform called Digital Sky that will take care of necessary licencing and permissions to fly drones from this month onwards. It simplifies the process of getting government clearances without having to physically shuffle through the corridors of North Block.

So how does Digital Sky, one of the first drone ecosystems in the world, operate? We take a deep dive.

Digital Sky will be accessible in the form of a portal. It is a medium through which drone users will get permissions to fly their units anywhere in the country. Except for the no-fly zones mentioned in the draft regulations, drone flyers can apply for permissions according to the type of drones they have. Permissions can be got for multiple days at one go.

Having said that, before you start flying a drone, you’ll have to get yourself a pilot’s license as well as register your drone into the ecosystem, as per the required protocols. Only the nano category (below 250 grams) of drones are exempt from these norms.

Tanuj Bhojwani was one of the many volunteers from iSpirit to work on Digital Sky, which went through its first set of tests earlier this year. He also credits others in his team such as Siddharth Shetty, Nakul Saxena, Sidhant Goel, Siddharth Purohit and Haran Sivaram among others for the work on Digital Sky.

"They may ask you for a letter of permission from the land owner saying you can fly a drone here. Now such a letter, to actually verify, takes a lot of effort, adding up to the cost. This is where the Digital Sky portal comes in and simplifies the process. " - Tanuj Bhojwani, iSpiritTime for Take Off

Tanuj points out the basic process for which Digital Sky has been created. “You have to be a registered entity, having a pilot number and a drone which has three crucial features; Unique Identity Number (UIN), make sure the drone is not armed, and have the right digitally signed permission from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA).”

Except for the nano-category drones, you need to get a permit for every other drone segment. You can also apply to register for a drone that you plan to import.

Also Read: Drones You Can Buy in India and How They Are Classified

You file a flight plan, signed by the drone, backed through Digital Sky.

“This file is in XML format, it has a digital signature from the DGCA which can be checked by decrypting the public key. It can be audited but not actively read,” Tanuj clarifies before the panic stations start buzzing over privacy.

Also Read: Drones in India Can Officially Take Off From 1 December Onwards

"Unmanned Aircraft Operator Permit or UAOP will be issued in 7 days – hopefully, this will be done faster. They will ask people to upload the document and the DGCA will have a guy who will verify this document before clearing the permit." - Tanuj Bhojwani, iSpirit

“If implemented properly, the flight plan cannot be spoofed, because it has to be digitally signed by the drone itself. Once that is done, a private key is generated, available to the drone firmware and it is used to sign and identify the device.” This way, the registered drone is in line of sight, which was always going to happen, he admits.

You can apply for permission via Digital Sky to fly in any part of the country (except for the no-fly zones) from wherever you are. For instance, you can be in Noida, and wanting to fly in a place like Spiti for multiple take-offs.

Just the Start, Keeping it Simple

Digital Sky is a step in the right direction but the policy still carries a lot of ifs and buts that are likely to be tackled in the coming months.

"Following the registration beginning from December 1, the required licenses will be issued from a month later to accord drones legal status in India. We are working on the next step of our drone policy where we are looking at allowing flying drones beyond the line of sight in certain areas. " - Jayant Sinha, Minister of State for Civil Aviation to IANS "I see this as an evolving document, reaching the right place, eventually. But for that to happen, efforts need to be made by all parties. Solving this requires dialogues to happen and we’re hopeful that from now on the drone industry and government works in an active manner." - Tanuj Bhojwani, iSpirit

There’s already a Drone Policy 2.0 from the aviation ministry, which is likely to be issued for consultation in the coming weeks.

This image of a drone is for representation purpose only. 

"The draft civil aviation requirement for Drone Policy 2.0 will be issued for consultation on January 15 at a global aviation summit India is hosting in Mumbai." - Jayant Sinha, Minister of State for Civil Aviation to IANS

Also Read: Here’s What Drone Flyers Have to Say About the New Regulations

There are some issues worth looking at as well. What happens if a drone crashes during its flight? What about the insurance? While the regulation states insurance as applicable, it’s unlikely that companies will offer a new scheme for such a category and he expects that to evolve in the coming years.

"Insurance industry needs to know the size of the drone market and to run this business, the cost of investment will be needed. Digital Sky by default will have incident reporting. " - Tanuj Bhojwani, iSpirit

He thinks that the government should look at releasing quarterly reports of incidents, and make them available publicly to keep insurance companies in the loop with such matters. This is where registering the drone will be pivotal. If a drone manufacturer doesn’t get UINs for his products, insurance for any accident would be hard to avail.

If a legit drone gets into a mishap only then the cost can be shared.

And if everything goes as planned, you can start expecting pizzas to be delivered by drones in the country very soon.

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