• New policy divides UAVs into four categories by weight; anyone importing drone over 10kg will require defence ministry’s clearance
• Experts say proposed rules are ‘vague’; will add massively to CAA’s workload; may discourage hobbyists and cinematographers

RAWALPINDI: The Ministry of Aviation has finalised a fresh framework to register drones and unmanned aircraft, but the draft rules developed for the purpose have left stakeholders and experts skeptical, as they believe the ‘vague’ nature of the proposed regulations would throttle the general use of such aerial equipment.

The draft rules, titled ‘Civil Unmanned Aircraft Rules, 2024’, are set to be presented before the federal cabinet for approval, a senior official from the Aviation Division told Dawn.

He claimed that after the completion of necessary stakeholder consultations, the draft is ready for cabinet review.

The draft policy aims to regulate drone usage across Pakistan. Under these rules, all unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), commonly referred to as drones, must be registered with the federal government.

According to the Ministry of Aviation, the new regulations, which will come in to effect after cabinet approval, will apply to both model or toy aircraft that cannot fly, as well as tethered balloons that remain below 200 feet above ground level.

Under the proposed policy, UAVs are classified into four categories based on their maximum take-off weight: category-I (up to 250 grams), category-II (250 grams to 10 kilograms), category-III (10kg to 25kg), and category-IV (25kg to 100kg).

Under the fresh rules, unmanned vehicles with a maximum take-off weight above 100kg will be deemed ‘manned aircraft’, with all regulatory requirements for a manned aircraft applicable to them.

Among the biggest issues experts have with this policy is the arbitrary classification of UAVs, according to their weights.

A drone expert based in Karachi told Dawn that there was no rationale behind the lowest limit of 250g.

He said the 250g number “did not come from aviation or drone literature” but from a US study on nuclear fallout, conducted in the 1950s or 60s, which is unrelated to drones.

Globally, drones or UAVs are not classified solely on the basis of their take-off payloads.

According to UMILES, a company providing unmanned aviation services in 10 countries, including the UK and Qatar, the main characteristic for the classification of UAVs is their number of wings and propellers.

This divides UAV into four major categories: tricopters, quadcopters, hexacopters and octocopters; having three, four, six and eight arms each fitted with one motor, respectively.

The new rules proposed by the CAA are “less detailed” than the previous set, said the expert, who did not wish to be named.

The policy also “skimps on” many technical details.

Operating conditions

As per the draft rules, no person can fly category II, III and IV UAVs unless they have “logged into and submitted operation-related information” on CAA’s electronic system.

The aviation expert said the proposed rules were apparently “unenforceable”.

In their view, the suggestion that all kinds of flights, from categories II to IV, be registered with CAA and be fitted with a track and trace software would add so much to the CAA’s workload that they would probably be dealing with more drone flights on a daily basis than actual airplane flights .

As per the draft rules, no permission is needed if UAVs are operating under “standard conditions”.

These conditions have been defined as, among other things, flights within permitted airspace, within the operator’s visual line-of-sight, not higher than 200 feet above the ground level, and during daylight under “permissible meteorological conditions”.

For flights during non-standard conditions, the operator has to apply for general or specific permission from the “Director General” (DG) or an authorised officer, as per the draft rules.

Operators of drones in categories II, III, and IV will also need a “Remote Pilot Licence” from the CAA.

The draft rules prohibit flights into “restricted airspace” without prior written permission of the DG or an authorised officer.

These restricted areas included airspace within the precincts of a city or a town; airspace between six and 12km from an aerodrome; airspace over Pakistan’s territorial waters; any airspace designated as controlled by the Director General; the airspace above any property whose owner does not consent to the UAV’s overflying; and any other airspace designated as restricted airspace by the coordination committee.

Registering unmanned aircraft

Under the new rules, every UAV has to be registered with the CAA before its operation. The registration will be renewed after every three years.

Every registered unmanned aircraft shall be given a unique number consisting of English letters and numerals.

The registration applications, along with the UAVs’ intended use, shall be submitted to the DG. who will make a decision within 60 days to approve or dismiss the application.

Individuals must also register to import and export UAVs. Those importing category-III and IV drones will require clearance from the Ministry of Defence. Violators of the new rules may face penalties, including fines up to Rs100,000 and an additional daily fine of Rs10,000 for continued contravention.

‘Not drafted by aviation experts’

One aviation expert Dawn spoke to said the document does not “specifically nominate anyone” to deal with registration and permission issues.

“There is no data about any of these category drones I, II, III, IV after they have been classified by weight,” he said, adding that no distinction is made as per the intended use of the UAV.

He added that the policy had not been drafted by aviation experts because they would “put different things into this policy”.

According to him, if the proposed rules are approved then it is going to hit a lot of people in the field of cinematography, as well as discouraging hobbyists and putting a damper on whatever little amateur drone-related experiments are being performed around the country by individuals.

Published in Dawn, June 24th, 2024

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