With rules still in the making, Customs destroy 100 drones

Devices banned, but many overseas passengers bring them to Bengaluru

With rules still in the making, Customs destroy 100 drones

 Customs authorities have junked about 100 drones seized from passengers and freight companies.Over five years, they had confiscated 200 of the remote-controlled devices at the airport. Eighty eight remain in their custody.

Drones, also called quadcopters, are classified as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). Their use is prohibited in India.The devices seized in Bengaluru were recently crushed under hard metal and rendered unusable, a source said.

The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), Bureau of Civil Aviation (BCA) and Department of Telecommunications have analysed their dangers and prompted the government to ban their use and entry into the country. Before 2011, the Customs authorities allowed some drones in, with passengers describing them as toys. “Since April last year, we have been seizing a large number of UAVs,” said a customs source.

Easy to buy
Officials admit UAVs are easily available in the grey market across India. Responsible drone enthusiasts are aware of the security concerns, and do not go high or into restricted areas, a user said.

“We are sometimes stopped by enforcement officials, but when we explain why we are using it, a majority are reasonable,” Manjunath Naidu, a drone enthusiast, told DH. Naidu bought a drone online but it has remained stuck with Bengaluru Customs for a couple of years. He is not alone. “Many professionals and amateurs use drones. They order them online,” Naidu said.

Used for shoots
The laws are not clear, and most people put drones to legitimate use, according to Lokesh Acharya, who uses his Phantom DIJ quadcopter with cameras mounted on it. Lokesh shoots ad and feature films with his drone cameras. “Carrying my equipment to different cities and out of the country has become a real headache because of the confusion over the rules,” he told DH.

But Customs officials have their own problems. “Some passengers ask us for an export certificate when they want to take their drones out of the country. Sometimes officials oblige, but most of the time, they are stopped from carrying drones because of safety and security concerns,” said a Customs source.

Manned aircraft traffic
In 2014, the Civil Aviation authorities came up with a public notice on the use of drones for civil applications, acknowledging they are useful in many situations, but could cause air collisions and accidents. “The airspace over cities in India has a high density of manned aircraft traffic,” read the notice. While the rules are being framed, no non-government organisation or individual can launch a drone into Indian air space for any purpose, the notice said.

Over the last five years, the potential of drones has risen dramatically. The civil aviation ministry is formulating fresh rules, said a top official. Here, in Bengaluru, twelve drones were re-exported to where they came from, on the request of their owners. According to Section 80 of the Customs Act of 1962, detained goods can be sent back, a senior customs official said.

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