Drones were effectively used in relief works during glacier bursts in Uttarakhand or floods in Assam, in Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh but were missing in Chennai’s relief works after rains pounded the city five days ago. There is no government approval to operate the drones, Chennai is mostly in the red zone as it is near the airport, said sources.

Many took to the social media stating drones could have been helpful to supply essential items to the affected people.

“There was no approval from both the Centre and the State government to operate the drones,” said an official from a leading drone company when asked why drones were not operated during the Chennai floods.

“Chennai, being classified as a red zone, has posed challenges for private drone operators, as government regulations explicitly state that flying drones in red zones is prohibited and constitutes a punishable offence. This restriction is not unique to Chennai; private players are forbidden from flying drones in red zones across India,” said Ankit Kumar CEO SkyeAir Mobility.

“We strongly advocate for the urgent development of a comprehensive solution, especially in disaster situations. Private players and various government departments must collaborate seamlessly to facilitate prompt and effective actions,” he said.

An aviation expert says restrictions should be waived during times of calamity. Lives are more important than ill conceived rules and laws.

‘Significant value’

“Drones can add significant value at such times,” said Senthil Kumar, Director, Dr. Kalam Advanced UAV Research Centre, MIT Campus of Anna University, on use of drones in relief works.

“Our drones team did approach the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and flew a few sorties. Though the concerned NDRF personnel did appreciate its small form factor and ease of deployment, I believe the number of immediate cases were so many that NDRF personnel had their hands way beyond full hence it was a case of whom to rescue first and they didn’t have to search for people to rescue,” he told businessline.

Drones are invaluable when trying to locate small numbers over a huge area but have limited use when the whole landscape is full of people to be rescued. Delivering supplies to marooned should be an application that the industry should work with NDRF for inclusion of specifically designated drone delivery squads to be created apart from the existing search and rescue personnel as that was a huge problem that was repeated, he said.

Due to choppers flying with unmanned traffic management systems, there is high risk of collision, he said.

Meanwhile, the Tamil Nadu government on Friday started using drones of Dr. Kalam Advanced UAV Research Centre for an aerial survey of the affected areas.

Drones have been pressed into action to get vital incidental data, which will be used to tackle pending issues, assist in cleaning work and more importantly to use in the future to mitigate repetition of present issues, State Industries Minister TRB Rajaa posted in X.