Wings to flyFor Stella Koirala, the next frontier for Nepali women is the sky. In the past decade, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), popularly referred to as drones, have grown into a $1.3 billion industry,
For Stella Koirala, the next frontier for Nepali women is the sky. In the past decade, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), popularly referred to as drones, have grown into a $1.3 billion industry, with sales further expected to rise tenfold in the next decade. But, by and large, drones remain a ‘boy’s toy’—a recent consumer study indicating that up to 98 percent of drone pilots in the world over are male.
“That gap is even more pronounced in Nepal,” Koirala said, in a conversation with the Post, “Around the world, people are exploring different ways that drones can be used in, from agriculture to pizza delivery, but in Nepal you’d struggle to find women that pilot drones. Which is why we organised a workshop to train women to fly these fun machines.”
Koirala was one of the organisers of a recently concluded workshop that sought to train 40 young women to assemble and pilot drones. Hosted by Miss Tech, in collaboration with the Robotics Association of Nepal, the three-day workshop brought together students from a range of backgrounds to provide them a crash-course on everything related to drones, which culminated in a session where the new pilots showcased their skills.
But given the complex red tape that surrounds drones in Nepal, it is highly unlikely that the trainees will have the free range to practice their newly acquired skills at the moment.
Last month, a Greek tourist, Petros Nousias, was nabbed from Chame Village, a popular stopover on the Annapurna Circuit, for flying a drone without approved paperwork. After being briefly held by local authorities, he was released for a fine of Rs 5,000 and his drone confiscated for the duration of his stay in the region.
Anyone looking to deploy drones in a public space in the country need to seek out an approved letter from the Home Ministry and submit it with a slew of other paperwork to the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN), in order to be granted a go-ahead. The drone pilots then have to coordinate with the local police—of the locality where they want to fly their machines—in order to deploy the drones.
Every month, some ten to fifteen people—most of whom are tourists—come to CAAN seeking permission to fly drones. All of this, of course, is a longer bureaucratic process than it seems on the paper.
According to Subhash Jha, Deputy Director of the Air Transport Division of CAAN, the stringent regulation came into effect after unregulated drones became an aviation hazard and security concern after the 2015 Nepal Earthquake. Jha said, “Firstly, the drones were being illegally used to photograph many of the country’s historic artifacts. And then there were so many unregulated drones flying in the sky that they had become an aviation hazard—creating the risk of them potentially colliding into aircrafts. We had to put the rules into effect as soon as possible.”
While regulating the technology makes sense, the lengthy and painstaking bureaucratic process that comes with it doesn’t always.
Drones, admittedly, are more than just toys. They played a crucial role in saving many lives in the aftermath of 2015 earthquake. Drones were extensively used in the rescue efforts as well; they helped in mapping the worst hit areas, finding those in need and surveying villages that would otherwise have taken hours to reach by road.
Sisan Baniya, a popular Vlogger on Youtube, spoke about drones’ usefulness during post-earthquake response but also in promoting tourism in the country. “Nepal is a very beautiful country. The hills that surround us limit what we see but the bird-eye view—filmed through drones—is magical. I try to do my part by uploading what I film but often times, getting the permit to do so is such a hassle.”
The usage of drones is not just limited to rescue efforts and tourism and its scope continues to grow by the year. Around the world, doctors have started using drones to transport medical samples to and from remote health centres where access to healthcare is severely limited by geographical and logistical challenges. Private companies are using drones to monitor their resources and infrastructures. And interestingly, even pizza companies are contemplating delivering their ‘30-minute’ pizzas via drones.
To be a part of this larger endeavour and to reap the numerous benefits of drone usage, Nepal has to create a welcoming environment that catalyses and encourages the use of the technology. Baniya suggested that the government create certain no-fly zones near airports and security installments and use GPS system to monitor drones, instead of putting into effect a blanket ban. He said, “Drone laws should be strict, yes, but, for people who genuinely want to use drones for a valid purpose, the government should be more cooperative. For efficiency, instead of leading the pilots through lengthy permit processes, the authority could simply track the approved drones through GPS. The technology is already out there. It is for us to deliberate if we want to remain tied to the old red tape ways.”
In this technology-driven era, the craze for drones will only grow in the future. There already are stores in Kathmandu that have drones available for purchase for prices upwards of Rs 150,000; having it brought in from abroad costs even cheaper. And with technology ever-evolving, the day drones are as ubiquitous as smart phones might not be too distant after all. What side of the digital divide we want ourselves to be in, is now for us to decide.
Regulations for flying a drone in public:
Collect the following documents and have them submitted to CAAN for permission
- Request Letter.
- A copy of Operation Specifications of Drone.
- A copy of Map of Operation Area.
- Copy that shows lat-long box of operation area.
- No Objection / Recommendation Letter of concerned.
- Letter from the concerned authority for security clearance and or other clearance.
Source: Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal