The Civil Aviation Ministry finally gave the nod to the commercial use of drones and have released a set of guidelines, which will be effective from December 1.

This ensures that more people will be able to use drones, provided they adhere to the conditions such as registering the devices, getting an operator’s licence and ensuring the drones are not flown over certain zones. In Kerala, drones are extensively used for wedding photography and videography and the new policy has put the users in a predicament.

The primary reason being that most of the drones or helicams that are currently being used are imported from other countries, says Kochi-based videographer Ranjith Raghu. “The existing law states that helicams used in India should be manufactured in the country. But a lot of people smuggle these devices because of the better image quality as well as battery life,” he says.

The new guidelines will require each device to be registered with a unique identification number and the plan also proposes a ‘no permission-no flight’ policy. Another wedding photographer from Kochi, on condition of anonymity, tells us, “When the new law comes into place and if strictly enforced, we will have to buy new devices as we won’t be able to fly the ones we already have. The helicams cost us from Rs 1.2 lakh to Rs 3 lakh, and there won’t be takers for these items in the market either as it was purchased before drones manufactured in China were made legal to use in India.”

Another hassle is identifying the zones they would be allowed to fly. Thiruvananthapuram-based photographer Rathi Lal says, “For the pre and post-wedding shoots, we usually choose locations near the beaches or backwaters. In the new policy, areas near the coasts are under the radar and so are a lot of places like Veli and Ponmudi. For Hindu weddings, we usually take videos inside temples using the helicam and that’s banned too.”

He also points out that the new set of restrictions will also make shooting in cities trickier.

“There’s a 4km radius that is identified for the use of drones, and the condition is that none of the government offices, police stations and strategic zones should be in that specified area. Earlier, we didn’t have to bother about that. We used to go to the bride or the groom’s place or the auditoriums and shoot the videos. Now, we might have to do a recce and seek prior approvals just like how it’s done for movies,” says Rathi Lal.

Another nitty-gritty the wedding videographers might have to deal with is the consent of the owners of the properties that are included in the footage. Ranjith says, “We usually only take an aerial shot of the couple’s house and the neighbouring houses would inadvertently be included. Till now people have not made an issue about that, and I don’t think that’s going to change.”

Rathi Lal though begs to differ. “A few years ago, we were shooting in Pangode and the helicam went out of the range and fell near a government office. They made a hue and cry about that and we had to report to the police station, so they could monitor the footage that we had taken.”

As the use of drones “wasn’t that strictly monitored earlier”, the videographers say that they are hoping there would be some leeway as all their footage is backed up in the hard drive and can be checked whenever the authorities want.

Still photographer Mahadevan Thampi, who has been operating drones in movies such as Adam Joan and Vimaanam, though believes that the current set of rules would be strictly enforced by the authorities. “In the past five years, there were at least three revisions, but they were just copy-paste versions of other countries’. This time, however, as commercial operations are prioritised, care has been taken to draft it by including all security concerns, device specifications and applications.”

He recalls how he was pulled up in Scotland for using a drone on the set of Prithviraj-starrer Adam Joan. “We were aware of the country’s drone policy, which allows people to operate helicams for personal use but ask for prior approvals if it’s for commercial purposes such as shooting a film. When a cop questioned me for using the drone, I had to tell him that it was for Prithviraj’s personal use and he has a habit of taking an aerial shot wherever he travels.”

Meanwhile, there are also some such as wedding planner Shana Selvam, who welcome the new guidelines that require the user to have an operators’ licence. “A lot of accidents are caused even when helicams are used inside an auditorium as they are not careful of the risks. Also due to improper handling of the equipment, there are times that drones have proved to be a nuisance. For instance, when helicams fly near the stage, the speakers give off an echo, they blow off the candles and lamps, and once it even ruined the hairstyle of a bride. The new guidelines could ensure that drones are handled in weddings only by experts.”


Know your drones

Drones have been classified into five categories based on weight. Apart from devices in the nano category (below 250g), the micro, small, medium and large need to be registered

Only drones below 2kg can be flown below 200ft in closed premises, without prior permission from the authorities

Flying over densely populated areas without prior approval is not allowed

Flying within 5km area of airport, 500m into the sea from the coastline or strategic locations are not allowed.


Guidelines for drone operator’s licence

Anyone aged 18 years and above can fly a drone, provided they have at least completed Class 10 education and have prior permissions

Registering the drone with DGCA for Unique Identification Number will cost Rs 1000


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