DGCA off-loads civilian drone certification to third parties
The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) tied up with the Quality Council of India (QCI) to develop and operate a certification scheme for remotely piloted aircraft systems or drones as they are known in common parlance, in line with the requirements issued by the civilian regulator.
All manufacturers who desire to obtain certification for their drones will now have to approach the QCI. Manufacturers whose various models have been provisionally accepted by the DGCA will also have to get permanent certification from QCI.
Earlier, the DGCA had issued the Civil Aviation Requirements (CARs) to ensure airworthiness and seamless operations for privately owned remotely piloted aircraft systems for civilian purposes. Consequently, drones to be used, whether manufactured in India or imported, are required to be certified to ensure they meet the stipulated technical and safety parameters.
There are a number of firms in India that manufacture drones of various sizes and capability. The number of start-ups getting into this business segment has also witnessed an increase recently. Drones, along with robotics and electric vehicle equipment, are among the focus areas identified by the government to reduce imports and ramp up domestic production for becoming self-reliant.
Certification is different from registration of drones, which has now been made mandatory and for which there is a different process. While certification deals with the technical specifications of the machine and is the responsibility of the manufacturer, registration, like that of a vehicle, concerns post-sale ownership and identification and is the responsibility of the operator.
DGCA has classified drones into five categories by their all-up weight, including payload. These are nano, weighing up to 250 grams; micro, weighing from 250 grams to 2 kg; small, from 2 kg to 25 kg; medium, from 25 kg to 150 kg; and large, weighing above 150 kg.
According to the Ministry of Civil Aviation, a total of 19,553 drones have been registered in India till March 2020. These are 1,832 nano, 13,735 micro, 2,808 small, 140 medium and 1,038 large drones. In addition, several thousand illegal drones are believed to be operating in the country. The use of drones also has security implications.
The DGCA and QCI have signed a memorandum of understanding to develop and operate a certification scheme as per the technical standards defined by DGCA for drones, registered flight modules and ‘no permission, no take-off’ (NPNT) operating framework, as well as procedures and specifications for third-party conformity assessment systems.
The process is aimed at ensuring that the drones meet applicable regulatory requirements and secure international acceptability. The system of certification is based on guidelines provided in the international standard 17067:2013, which guides the development of product certification schemes worldwide.
A multi-stakeholder steering committee chaired by a seasoned professional will oversee the certification scheme along with a QCI secretariat. The steering committee will also be supported by a technical committee and a certification committee that will be constituted by QCI.