Food Delivery through Drones: Compliances and Complexities

By Kopal Chaturvedi 11 Minutes Read

Taking a step ahead to approach non-contact delivery of food, delivery startups like ZomatoSwiggy, and Dunzo can now use drones as a means for dispensing their items. The Ministry of Civil Aviation has come up with a climacteric decision of letting these companies test Beyond the Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) for deliveries. Since the companies are done with their initial pleasantries, the coming future can witness an era of Digital Delivery. This methodology will not only maintain social distancing but will also bring off some time. Food delivery companies can now safely deliver their food at low-end rates and expeditious ways without exposure to any road traffic and pollution. But to rejoice this highly advanced technology, companies will have to comply with a plethora of norms. There exist various government notifications and guidelines regarding the safety and usage of Remotely Piloted Aircraft or simply called, Drones.

The present article will deal with the complexities which the companies might face in the future to comply with safety directives including registrations, permissions, and their maintenance. The following five notifications outline the complete procedure required to be followed:

  • Civil Aviation Requirements Section 3 – Air Transport Series – X Part 1 Issue I dated 29 August 2018
  • AIP Supplement 164 of 2018 issued by the Airports Authority of India dated 30 November 2019.
  •  DGCA RPAS Guidance Manual issued on 3 June 2019 by the DGCA.
  • Public Notice regarding voluntary disclosure of non-compliant drones flying in India dated June 9, 2020.

According to their size and weight, drones are divided into various categories. Drones weighing less than 250 grams come under the category of Nano drones. While the ones between 250 g and 2 kg are counted under the Micro category. 2 kgs to 25 kgs is a Small category, up to 150 is the Medium category and greater than this is counted under the category Large. Drones belonging to the Nano category and operating under 50 ft. do not require Unique Identification number, while Nano and Microdrones operating below 50 and 200 ft. respectively are exempted from obtaining Unmanned Aircraft Operator Permit. These sensitive aircraft shall comply with specific conditions regarding its wingspan and rotor diameter, and other specifications including fabrication methods. The manufacturer must provide a certificate of compliance along with ‘No Permission-No Take-off’ compliance with the Directorate General of Civil Aviation. Nano drones are exempt from obtaining these. To apply for a UIN, the person must be a citizen of India or the central government or any state government. The term ‘person’ here includes any company or corporation owned or controlled by either of the said governments or a company or a body corporate that is registered and has its principal place of business within India. It also includes any company whose chairman and at least two-thirds of its directors are citizens of India and its substantial ownership and effective control is vested in Indian nationals or a company or corporation registered elsewhere than in India. Further, the government mandates the drone operators to have third-party liability insurance. However, there exists no minimum prescribed amount for the same.

According to the government notification dated May 2, 2020, taking into consideration the current emergency caused due to the Covid-19 endemic certain government entities have been granted permission to use drones for supplying essential services. There is no denying the fact that sooner or later, even the food delivery startups will have to comply with similar standards. The ministry has taken care of every aspect while framing the draft. It is regarding grant of conditional exception to these entities related to Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems operations. This includes usage of the battery-operated wing only whereby restricting all other types of RPA. These drones must be under the responsibility of an authorized entity. This entity must supervise and control the operation of the device. This company or entity shall be completely responsible for the custody, security, and access control at all times constantly. In cases of any third-party involvement, the liability will still lie on the concerned entity. The government also mandates the bodies to upload all the details regarding the device on the DGCA’s Digital Sky Platform within seven days of undertaking the flight.  These drones must comply with the conditions laid down by the Ministry.  It shall have a Unique Identification Number or a Drone Acknowledgement Number issued by the DGCA. This drone must not exceed 25 kg of weight. To cope up with emergencies where it loses command or control, it shall be equipped with an automatic return to home feature. Such devices must not be operated beyond 200 feet above the ground limit and shall maintain a safe distance from people. This aircraft should be maneuvered within the visual line of sight also called VLOS at all times. No sprays shall be installed on these. Keeping in mind the safety of the device and the commuters nearby, this shall be piloted in the time-period lying between the local sunrise and local sunset. During adverse weather conditions, their operation must not be continued. Also, the person handing the drone, called the operator shall be adept in handling it in all stages of flight including emergency recovery actions. In case the battery reserve reaches a minimum of 15 minutes, all the operations shall be terminated. To maintain efficiency in safety, one remote pilot shall not operate more than one aircraft. Like any other vehicle, geographical restrictions are imposed on their operation as well. Drones shall function at a minimum distance of 5 km from the perimeter of airports like Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai, Bengaluru and Hyderabad and of a minimum distance of 3 km from the perimeter of any civil, private or defense airport. These devices shall not enter areas permanently or temporarily prohibited like the Temporarily Reserved Airspace, Temporarily Segregated Areas, etc. as notified under the Aeronautical Information Publication. It should also stay within 25 km from International Borders, not beyond 500 m into sea, within a 5 km radius from Vijay Chowk, Delhi, and 3 km radius from the State Secretariat Complex. These drones shall maintain a reasonable distance from mobile vehicles and should not fly over eco-sensitive areas or around National Parks, etc. The guidelines as mandated by the government place the liability of safe custody and operations of a drone on the operator. In case of any loss of any drone, it becomes the responsibility of the operator to report the same to the local police, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation, and the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security. This operator must ensure that the program followed before each flight is BCAS-approved.

These guidelines must be complied with by the companies holding the license. In case of any breach of the aforementioned provisions, holders will be criminally liable under the Indian Penal Code, 1860 under sections like section 287 which talks about the negligent conduct concerning machinery which is punishable by imprisonment that may extend to six months or a fine that may extend up to 1,000 Indian rupees, or both. Section 336 which talks about acts endangering life or personal safety of others will also be attracted with a maximum sentence of imprisonment that may extend to three months or a fine that may extend to 250 rupees or both. According to section 337, a person can be liable for causing hurt by an act endangering the life or personal safety of others that is punishable by maximum imprisonment that may extend to six months or a fine that may extend to 500 rupees or both. Further, other relevant sections including section 338 might apply in various situations. Penalties for non- observance of any directions mentioned above and issued under Rule 133A of the Aircraft Rules are for a term not exceeding six months or a fine not exceeding 200,000 rupees or both.

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