Andhra Pradesh

Turbulent skies for drone owners

In October last year, a major mishap was averted near the Visakhapatnam International Airport when a Chennai-Vizag commercial flight missed being hit by a drone that was being used by an amateur photographer.

The flight was about land at INS Dega when a drone was sighted on the flight path, when the aircraft was barely 900 metres above the ground. A disaster was averted due to timely intervention by the pilots and air traffic control.

Drone photography had become all the rage back then, catching the fancy of many photographers — both amateur and professional. However, with stringent rules coming into force, the trend has since subsided. Though there are many players now, most of them are using drones for wedding photography and are insisting on indoor takes.

"The experience of drone photography has been exhilarating and many wedding clients still insist on the use of drones. But we try avoiding it as far as possible as the rules have become stringent, especially in a city like Visakhapatnam with all its strategic installations," said a wedding photographer.

Uniquely poised

Visakhapatnam is unique in many aspects compared to other cities, as it is home to not just the Eastern Naval Command but also to several other important installations of national importance.

"There are about nine major vital installations including the naval base, HPCL, LPG terminal and Visakhapatnam Port and Steel Plant. Photography of these vital installations is strictly prohibited, but by using drones one can easily take pictures. Hence, this makes the city unique which is why we have prohibited drone photography, especially in these areas," said Commissioner of Police R.K. Meena.

Violation of laws by drone operators is an offence punishable under Sections 287, 336, 337, and 338 of IPC, said another senior police inspector. If death is caused due to flying of drones, then Section 304-A or 304 Part II of IPC can be invoked, based on the case, he said.

According to a senior officer from the ENC, usage of drones is strictly prohibited around all airports in the world, as they can come in the flight path of the aircraft.

"Depending on the traffic and sensitivity of the airport, the restriction zone can vary from 3 km to 25 km. Since Visakhapatnam Airport (INS Dega) is under the Ministry of Defence and is used both by commercial and naval aviation wing, the restriction is over a radius of 20 km," he said.

Visakhapatnam Airport has two runways and there are four flight paths, covering a 25 km radius.

Watching from above

While drone photographers have been reigned in to a large extent, drones are being used extensively by the security forces for surveillance.

Drones are being used by the police along the routes taken by VVIPs and they are also being used in a big way during major public events. "During the International Fleet Review (IFR), drones were used for surveillance and security purpose," said senior police officer Mahendra Patrudu, who was then the ADCP (Traffic) in Visakhapatnam.

Drones and UAVs are being used by CRPF and police in anti-Maoist operations and by the Excise Department to check ganja smuggling.

Govt. policy

To reign in drone users, the Ministry of Home Affairs in association with the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has formed a policy, according to which drone camera users must obtain a valid licence, which has an unique identification number (UIN).

All drones except those in the nano category must be registered and are issued a UIN. Drones cannot be flown over a height of 400 feet and in ‘no-fly zones’.

The ‘no fly zones’ include all government buildings and establishments, residences of VIPs, protected areas, airports and helipads, vital installations, metro stations and any other place that is notified as sensitive or vulnerable by the police.

"Once a person obtains the licence, he or she has to obtain a permission to fly via a mobile app which is linked to the UIN, from the DGCA. If he or she tries to fly the drone, it will not take off," said Prabal Mohanty, a senior photographer.

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Printable version | Jan 21, 2021 7:30:46 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/andhra-pradesh/turbulent-skies-for-drone-owners/article29993009.ece

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