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The Union budget unveiled a drone shakti initiative to support startups manufacturing drones. A drone policy was put in place late last year. A Digital Sky initiative is seeking to create a digital space to regulate and integrate permissions and flying of all aircraft – commercial, military and drones.

Tamil Nadu has its own Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Corporation whose primary aim is to produce drones that will curb illegal mining and monitor quarries. More recently, the government has identified air strips for locating a drone hub where drones will be manufactured and tested.

Drone applications are only bound to increase. Drones present a job opportunity for many not only in designing and manufacturing but in flying these unmanned vehicles.

Inmathi.com spoke to Captain Robin Singh, a commercial pilot who also flies drones.

Who can fly drones?
Captain Robin Singh: Even a child can fly a toy drone. It’s like a remote-controlled car except that instead of just X-Y axis there is an Z-axis also along which the drone can move.

But in professional applications, certified pilots are more perhaps more suited or maybe required.  Others who are properly trained can also become certified drone pilots.

A pilot has an added advantage over those who are not trained pilots. A pilot flies an aircraft using a good mix of instruments and his ‘feeling’, which has come out of rigorous training and knowledge drilled into him about the machine and the environment. A pilot would therefore be more capable of interpreting the instruments and the rigours of the environment compared to others. A pilot can interpret the flying activity appropriately using the drone camera, just as he was doing in the cockpit, and then apply himself skillfully in all conditions of flight from remote.

In an aircraft, a pilot is responsible for his own life and that of others. The risk is much greater. A drone crashing is only loss of equipment, not so in an aircraft crashing.

Captain Robin Singh: “The drone gives a bird’s eye view over anything. It can be used to visualize a pathway in a jungle, to lay HT cables, for instance. The drone can give you complete real life images. An aircraft pilot would be able to capture the nuances of what the drone is capturing better and faster. They have been trained to fly and so bring in the insight that comes out of experience.”

What does flying professional drones involve?
In critical professional drone applications, professional knowledge of systems, instruments and the environment is required. It entails proper training in all aspects and a professional skillset to perform the task satisfactorily. Professional drones are quite costly and so a mishap or a crash is completely unacceptable.

So, arguably, a commercial pilot would probably be a better pilot. He would possess better insight, has better control and naturally exercises more caution. He has been trained and has prior experience.

The drone gives a bird’s eye view over anything. It can be used to visualize a pathway in a jungle, to lay HT cables, for instance. A map has limitations. The drone can give you complete real life images. Drones can go into buildings and show how the building is coming up. An aircraft pilot would be able to capture the nuances of what the drone is capturing better and faster. They have been trained to fly and so bring in the insight that comes out of experience.

What is the kind of training that will be imparted to drone pilots before they are certified?
The first requirement is high level of professionalism and how to control the drone so the professional purpose is achieved safely.

A lot of policy changes have happened in the recent past to create a drone eco-system and integrate it to aviation. The Directorate General of Civil Aviation would control all flying in India.

A key aspect of flying any aircraft is established Civil Aviation Regulations, called CARs by the industry. For aircraft, these specify rules for aircraft, aeroderomes, crew training and certification, airworthiness, environment protection, cargo carrying and so on.

CARs for drones have been drawn up by the DGCA (government). Drone pilots will be trained and certified as per the CARs, by the DGCA, for drones.

What permissions would be needed to fly drones?
Up to 200 feet high, drones can fly without any permission anywhere. Similarly, there are clearly laid down norms on how heavy the drone can be for requiring permissions.

Above 200 feet high and 25 kg, permissions would be required. Just as commercial manned flights need to get FIC/ADC that pertain to flight plan approval and security clearance, drones will also need to get similar clearance before deployment.

There would be certain regions that will be no-fly for drones such as airports or military installations, and other strategic/tactical areas. There will be green zones where drone flight will be permitted up to 800 feet or even 1,000 feet high after permissions. There will be yellow zones where there will be more restrictions.

Due to the high growth in this sector, at a later date, the movement of aircraft in the Indian airspace, permission system, and the drone system clearances will be integrated into one system, The Digital Sky.

What will training centers have?
A drone training institute will typically have a ground training establishment, a flight simulator, a physical flying area for drones, and the drones themselves. These will all be approved by the government agency.


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