MoCA & DGCA have launched the GARUD for providing fast track conditional exemptions to govt agencies due to COVID-19.

The Ministry of Civil Aviation tweeted close to 3 pm on May 5, 2020:

“MoCA & DGCA have launched the GARUD (Government Authorisation for Relief Using Drones) portal (https://garud.civilaviation.gov.in ) for providing fast track conditional exemptions to govt agencies for COVID-19 related drone operations.”

Also, they added in their next tweet at the same time:

“Getting necessary approvals from the Competent Authority & launching the portal in less than two weeks is a testimony of the hard work & dedication of officials at MoCA, DGCA, AAI & NIC. MoCA commends the contribution of everyone involved.”

Government Authorisation for Relied Using Drones is a portal launched by the Government of India in order to accelerate conditional exemptions given to Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems, which are also known as drones commonly.

The statement issued in this regard is by the Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) and the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA). It reads that the government is aware of the critical threats posed to life due to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus. The government opines that the use of the drones or RPAS will facilitate in a number of government functions to be carried out smoothly. 

The government wants to exercise the powers it has been vested with under Rule 160 of the Aircraft Rules of 1937. The government, as per the same notice, says that the government has designed a simple procedure for a RPAS to be granted conditional exemption.

If the flight of the aircraft is to be permitted, it has to follow the given terms and conditions to get approval:

  1. According to the statement provided by the ministry, drones that get the exemption are mainly being used for purposes of aerial surveillance, aerial photography, and public announcements related to COVID-19. These have been given exemptions by the government hereafter abiding by a set of terms and conditions, for experimental flying. 
  2. Only the rotary-wing drones have been allowed to fly and will be conducted by experts under a monitoring team. The use of any other kind of aircraft, including the use of a fixed-wing RPA is forbidden by the government order issued in this regard.
  3. The responsibility of the RPA is to rest, at all times, with the Authorised Entity, and the aircraft cannot tender a risk to any life/property or another manned/unmanned aircraft. 
  4. The details of every RPA flight will have to uploaded on the DGCA’s digital sky platform, within a time period of seven days from the undertaking of the flight. 
  5. In case of any accident or incident related to RPA operation it will be reported and investigated by the MoCA and the DGCA.

The following conditions are deemed necessary for the operation of the RPA:

  • The drones are to compulsorily have a unique identification number (UIN) or a drone acknowledgement number (DAN) issued by the DGCA.
  • The drone operations can be carried out within the Visual Line of Sight (VLOS) and one pilot can operate only one drone at a time. 
  • The weight of the flight must not exceed 25 kg. 
  • In case the link between the flight and the person controlling is lost, the RPA must be equipped with an automatic “return-to-home” feature.
  • It cannot be allowed to pick up, drop or spray any substance at any time. 
  • The RPA operation is to be terminated if the battery is lower than 15%.
  • Operations of the RPA are to be limited to between the local sunrise and sunset. 
  • The weather conditions are to be suitable for flight. Unsuitable weather conditions would mean heavy winds, rain, dust storms, low visibility and of the like. 
  • The authorised operator of the flight is expected to be competent in dealing with emergency recovery situations like any component failure. 

The geographical areas that cannot have the RPA operations carried out are listed in the order. The following are the specifications of those areas which are unsuited to flight:

  1. Within a five-kilometre radius from the Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata, Bengaluru and Hyderabad airports. 
  2. Within a three-kilometre radius from any other civil, private or defence airport, other than those of the big cities mentioned by the above clause.
  3. RPAs cannot fly within permanently or temporarily prohibited, restricted or endangered areas including TRA - Temporary Reserved Airspace, and TSA - Temporarily Segregated Areas, as is listed in the Aeronautical Information Publication. 
  4. Within 25 kilometres from the international borders like the Line of Control (LoC), Line of Actual Control (LAC) and Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL). 
  5. The RPA cannot be flown beyond horizontal 500 metre into the sea from the coast line given that the location of the ground station is on a fixed platform on the land. 
  6. Within 3 kilometres radius from a military installation or facility or camp where activities or exercises of the military are being undertaken. However, the RPA can be given flight in these areas if permission is obtained from the local military installation/facility. 
  7. Within 5 kilometres from the Vijay Chowk, Delhi, the RPA is not allowed flight (subject to additional restrictions that the local law agencies may want to impose). 
  8. Within 3 kilometres radius from State Secretarial Complex in State Capitals. 
  9. 2 kilometres from the strategic locations or critical installations as enlisted by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) unless the MHA can give permission. 
  10. From a mobile platform, the RPA is not allowed flight. This could mean a moving vehicle, ship or aircraft. 
  11. The RPA cannot fly over eco-sensitive zones like the notified National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries. The notification is issued by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change and permission can be issued only by the ministry.

In another order released last month by the Ministry, 13 pilot projects were given an exception to test their BVLOS experimental drone flights under the oversight of the surveillance committee. The privilege will indeed be effective until 30 September.

A couple of months prior, DGCA also drawn up updated rules to encourage the safe implementation of drone operations and to expand the number of organisations offering assistance.

Edited by Shraddha Jha

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