The Indian government released the CAR (Civil Aviation Requirements) for drones in August 2018. The drone regulations mandate that every drone pilot (above micro category) must undergo training in a DGCA (Directorate General of Civil Aviation) approved drone training institute. However, until July 24th, 2020, there were no such institutes in India. The DGCA has now approved the Bombay Flying Club (BFC) to conduct drone pilot training operations. The letter of approval was made public on July 27th, 2020. BFC’s approved status will be valid for up to 1 year from the date of issue of the letter, or until the Digital Sky platform goes live. Read the official approval letter here.
Bombay Flying Club: The first DGCA approved drone training institute
BFC’s exemption from the CAR and approval for operation as a training institute comes with a lot of conditional clauses and limitations. In total, the DGCA has outlined 18 conditions and limitations that BFC must adhere to at all times to uphold its approved status. The DGCA has emphasized on the safety of public property, the operator and also public privacy. Some of the most important conditions are:
- Clearances prior to operation: The BFC is required to obtain clearances from the Local Administration, Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Home Affairs, Indian Air Force, and the Airport Authority of India before the commencement of any RPAS (Remotely Piloted Aircraft System)/drone operations.
- Usage of only enlisted drones: DGCA has created a drone enlistment portal to enlist any kind of RPAS owned by civilians and commercial pilots alike. The enlistment serves as voluntary disclosure of the ownership of a drone to the government. Once a drone is enlisted, it receives a Drone Acknowledgment Number (DAN). Thus, BFC is only allowed to use RPAS with valid DANs.
- Data security: Any operation conducted through a drone comes with the risk of breach of privacy and data theft. Thus, any aerial photographs captured by the RPAS should be used only by BFC and they will be responsible for the data collected.
- VLOS operations only: The time frame to conduct drone training operations has been limited to daylight hours only (sunrise to sunset). The RPAS operation can only be conducted within Visual Line of Sight (VLOS) of the pilot in command.
- Insurance cover: In case of an RPAS malfunction or damage to public health and property, BFC shall have an adequate level of insurance cover.
- Safety, security, and privacy: The DGCA has clearly mentioned that the BFC must operate all RPAS with the highest standards of “safety, security, and privacy of public, property, operator, etc.”
There are several other clauses like the RPAS not being allowed to operate in no-fly zones, submission of the training manual to the DGCA, payload restrictions, trained personnel, etc. Read all the clauses here.
Implications of the approval
The approval was a long-waited step to kick-start the “drone race” in India. Since the CAR came into effect, factors like NPNT compliance, drone registration, and unavailability of drone training institutes have been slowing down the drone industry in India. Now that NPNT compliance has been dealt with (check out the list of NPNT compliant drones in India here), commercial pilots would greatly benefit from a DGCA approved drone training institute.
“The Ministry of Civil Aviation(MoCA) and the Directorate General of Civil Aviation(DGCA) have been supporting us extensively to kick start the training in the country, have helped in expediting the process and enabled us to start drone training in the country. All of this could be achieved in spite of the restrictions of the lockdown due to COVID-19,” Yash Patel, from the Bombay Flying Club, told DFI (Drone Federation of India) in an interview.
This will also open up employment opportunities for several drone pilots. BFC, on their website, states that, after going through the drone training, pilots will be able to engage in commercial operations like surveillance, photography, agriculture, etc. However, drone pilots must pass certain criteria to be eligible to apply for the drone training program.