Hovering over us - Drones in civil use

Drones are the game changing marvel of technology representing boundless possibilities for innovation and utilisation. In the initial days, they were primarily used by governments across the world as a way to supplement their militaristic operations. However, given that the technology has immense capability for application in the civil sphere, different jurisdictions have already come up with frameworks to regulate the subject matter.

Drones can indeed be used for multiple purposes, including, (a) monitoring and inspection of infrastructure like railways[1]; (b)  improvement in agriculture through crop and soil health monitoring system[2]; (c) ‘general use’ by civilians; (d) media and entertainment; (e) conservation of wildlife[3], etc.  The multi-use capability of drones has become even more apparent in light of the spread of Covid-19 pandemic. Authorities are increasingly opting to use them for monitoring the situation as well as ensuring contactless operations and services to the public at large.

With use of drones set to only increase over time, it is important that such uses be regulated in an effective way to ensure that the right to privacy is respected, and the safety and security at large is not compromised.
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Most frequent fliers would have been familiar with the requirement to power off personal electronic devices (PEDs) for the duration of domestic flights. It was not until 2014, that Indian fliers were permitted to operate mobile phones and other PEDs on “flight mode” (in non-transmitting mode). The rationale for this restriction, as explained by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), is that radio transmitters in most communications devices may, and have in the past, caused harmful interference with crucial on-board flight systems. Therefore, while several Indian carriers such as Jet Airways already provide on-board Wi-Fi services, such services are limited to the provision of locally stored content to airborne PEDs, and do not enable passengers to connect to the internet cloud.

However, recent technological developments have now made it possible for passengers to use transmitting PEDs while airborne, without causing harmful interference to crucial flight operation systems or terrestrial communication networks. Together these technological solutions are labelled In-Flight Connectivity (IFC) services. Typically, IFC solutions are provided by making use of aeronautical mobile satellite services that use a satellite link to provide IFC to onboard PEDs; or by using Mobile Communications on-board Aircraft (MCA) systems, which while typically operating on terrestrial GSM communications bands, use an air-to-ground satellite link to establish connections with terrestrial networks.


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