I had earlier written about the dilemma that is being faced by authorities across the world with respect to drones and how the Indian authorities have responded with the NPNT regulation. Now, many other countries have started to consider more restrictive regulations such as registrations of pilots and drones. This is an expected development. When faced with a problem, regulations are the first tool of choice for governments. The issue with regulations is that not only they can be inefficient but also ineffective. Therefore, it is necessary to look for other solutions beyond regulations. But first we have to look at why these regulations have been adopted in the first place.
Building a drone is a hobby project. Stopping a drone is a military one.
Given the ease with which they can be built or purchased off-the-shelf, drones are incredibly hard to take down. There is no single piece of technology that can take down a rogue drone effectively under all circumstances. The most effective solutions cost upwards of hundreds of thousands of dollars. In such an asymmetric scenario, any deficit of trust leads to a total mistrust of the device and its operators. The authorities can never trust drones because if it is being operated by a rogue agent they are powerless to stop them.
The consequence is regulations. In India, under the new regulations, there are regulatory checks at multiple levels:
- Only NPNT-certified drones can be built or imported
- Identity verification and security clearance approval is required while purchasing a drone
- Security clearance approval is required while obtaining an Operator Permit (UAOP)
- Pilot License verification is required while obtaining a permission to fly
- It is mandatory to submit logs after the flight is completed
Needless to say, this is a bureaucratic nightmare for drone operators. Many applications require approval from multiple departments. The fact that inter-departmental communication is virtually non-existent makes matters worse.
The reason for such multi-tiered verification is lack of trust. This lack of trust manifests in a few different ways.
Lack of trust of the devices: When drones can be made sitting at home at under 100$, there is very little oversight over the quality of devices.
Lack of trust of the pilots: Anyone can purchase highly autonomous drones off-the-shelf for as low as 800$ and fly them almost anywhere without requiring any technical knowledge.
Lack of trust of the operational procedures: With the high-profile incidents like the Gatwick Airport shutdown, authorities are skeptical of even the genuine operators’ intent and ability to follow any standardized operational procedure.
The regulations are simply a proxy to cover this trust deficit. But regulations are neither the only nor the most effective solution to this problem.
Standardization of equipment provides an easy-to-interpret benchmark for quality. There are currently multiple standards under development with regards to the unmanned aviation industry. Though neither have been fully adopted yet, most of them are in the mature stages of development and should be released to the public soon. Once they are fully adopted and functional, they should serve as a good proxy to claim trust of devices and procedures.
Training and Certification
Certification is a good proxy for mastery of a technical skill set and familiarity with good practices. Establishing a wide-network of training schools with tiered certifications would help in building a trust in the technical ability of the operating crew.
Though controversial at times, background verification of employed personnel helps in relaying doubts of their intents. This can help alleviate concerns in case of high risk and sensitive operations.
It is justified for the industry to be antagonistic to the over-burdening regulations since each bureaucratic process eats into time and profits. If the industry wants to reduce the burden of regulations, it is necessary to build other proxies for trust before anti-drone technology becomes a strong deterrent for any potentially damaging operation.