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Indian Miners barred from airborne surveys from low-altitude flights

The Director-General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) of India has refused permission to private investors in mining to carry out airborne geophysical surveys with aircraft flying at a height of less than 120 metres.

Almost the entire private investment in mining is foreign direct investment (FDI).

Till date, the Government has approved approximately Rs 4,000 crore FDI in mining, but the inflow is just Rs 200 crore mainly because of delay in starting survey work, which is the starting point for any mining activity.

Private sector investors, particularly the mining majors based in Australia, Canada and the US, had been insisting on permission to fly lower than 120 metres in order to make a realistic estimate of the country’s underground mineral resources.

The DGCA has informed the Ministry of Coal and Mines that it is not possible to allow flights below 120 metres because of safety and security reasons, Ministry officials told Business Line.

Private investors in mining had raised the issue of simplification of procedures for granting permission for airborne geophysical surveys and allowing flights at lower levels. The Ministry of Mines, in turn, took up the issue with the DGCA.

Currently, aerial surveys in the country are carried out in accordance with Aircraft Rules, 1937, which permit aircraft to fly at a minimum height of 120 metres. Similar surveys in the US, Canada and Australia are done from aircraft flying at 30 metres above the ground.

The Geological Survey of India (GSI) is also of the opinion that lower flights should be allowed. A senior geologist with GSI said, “Any survey aircraft will try to fly as low as possible because then the sensor gets much more stronger signals which come from deep beneath the earth. If you cannot fly low, then some signals may be missed also. Then it will not be possible to make an estimate of underground resources.”

The DGCA has, however, informed the Ministry that while it cannot permit flights at lower heights under the Aircraft Rules, 1937 – and there is no proposal to change the rules pertaining to aerial surveys either – it will certainly initiate steps to reduce the time taken for disposal of applications related to mining surveys.

This has also been cited by foreign investors as one of the reasons for delay in beginning work.