The new Drone Policy is aimed at making it easier for companies and individuals to operate Drones, while also streamlining the certification process for manufacturers, importers and users
On Thursday, July 15 this year, the Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) released a draft policy document with the title “The Drone Rules, 2021” and invited observations and suggestions from the public at large. In view of the increase in the level of activity in the Indian skies on account of uncontrolled proliferation in the domain of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) or Drones, it has become necessary for the MoCA to introduce regulatory provisions in this segment of aviation to obviate the possibility of these proliferating unmanned platforms posing any kind of risk to the safety and security of the general public as well as to assets on the ground. However, the new regulations are aimed at making it significantly easier for companies as well as individuals to own and operate Drones, while also streamlining the labyrinthine certification process for manufacturers, importers and users. This move by the government is aimed at boosting further development of technology in the domain of UAVs in the future.
The Drone Rules, 2021 will replace the Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) Rules 2021 released earlier and which came into force on March 12, 2021. The public has been requested to offer their comments and observations on “The Drone Rules, 2021” by August 5, 2021. The new regulations have enhanced focus on safety and have attempted to address some of the concerns regarding the compliance norms, outlined earlier, in India’s UAV industry that is in a nascent stage. The primary objective of the new policy pertaining to Drones is to enable increase in operating scenarios by more types of unmanned aircraft, enhance the ease of compliance for the unmanned aviation industry as well as to ensure safety and security.
ADVANTAGES OF THE DRONE RULES, 2021
As per the newly drafted regulations pertaining to Drones, the MoCA has reduced the fees to nominal levels and it would not be linked to the size of the Drone. Safety features such as ‘No Permission, No Takeoff’ (NPNT), real-time tracking beacon, geofencing etc are to be notified in future and as and when it is done, a six-month lead time will be provided for compliance. Some of the key takeaways of the newly drafted Drone Rules, 2021 are interactive airspace map with Green, Yellow and Red zones, corridors for cargo deliveries and relaxations in granting permission. The zones pertain to what is known as geo-fencing, which prohibit or limit the use of Drones at some places such as close to an airport or over sensitive military establishments and VIP locations.
The Digital Sky Platform will be developed as a business-friendly, single-window online system and most permissions will be selfgenerated
The Yellow zone will be reduced from 45 km to 12 km from the airport perimeter. No formal clearance or permission for Drone flights up to a height of 400 feet from the ground in Green zones and up to 200 feet in the area between eight and 12 km from the airport perimeter. The Green zone refers to the airspace from the ground up to a vertical distance of 400 feet (120 metres) above ground level (AGL) that has not been designated as a Red zone or Yellow zone in the airspace map for Drone operations and the airspace from the ground up to a vertical distance of 200 feet (60 metres) AGL in the area located between a lateral distance of eight kilometre and 12 kilometre from the perimeter of an operational airport. In Red zones, Drone operations shall be permitted only under exceptional circumstances after due clearance by the central government. To fly in the Yellow zone, a Drone operator will require permission from the Air Traffic Control authority in the area.
DIGITAL SKY PLATFORM
According to the draft Drone Rules 2021 document, operation of Drones without Unique Identification Number (UIN) will not be permitted unless specific exemption has been obtained in advance. Drone operators will have to generate UIN of a Drone by providing requisite details on the Digital Sky Platform which the government plans to open in the near future. Manufacturers will be able to use the Digital Sky Platform for the process of certification and from where interactive airspace maps with Green, Yellow and Red zones can be accessed. This is an initiative by the MoCA to provide a secure and a scalable platform that supports Drone technology frameworks, such as NPNT that has been designed to obtain permission for flight digitally and managing unmanned aircraft operations and other traffic efficiently. The Digital Sky Platform will be developed as a business-friendly, single-window online system and most permissions will be self-generated. The Digital Sky Platform will also serve as a unified platform for users to obtain the mandatory registration number and remote pilot licence. Those planning to operate a Drone will need to check the service to determine if any restrictions are in place before they fly a Drone at a location. The platform will be under India’s aviation regulator, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA).
EASING OF REGULATOPRY PROVISIONS
The government has also proposed removing the requirement for pilot licences for Micro Drones that are meant for non-commercial use as well as for Nano Drones and for these vehicles operated by the Research & Development organisations for research purposes. The new regulations have also relaxed restrictions on operations of Drones by foreign-owned companies registered in India. There will be no requirement to obtain any security clearance before registration of a Drone or issue of operating licence. Under Drone Rules, 2021, coverage of unmanned aerial platforms has been increased from a weight of 300 kg to 500 kg. This will cover Drone taxis as well. The maximum penalty for any violation of regulations has been reduced to Rupees one lakh. A Drone promotion council will also be set up to facilitate a businessfriendly regulatory regime. Many of the approvals previously required, such as unique authorisation number, unique prototype identification number, certificate of conformance, certificate of maintenance, import clearance, operator permit, authorisation of R&D organisation and student remote pilot licence, all have been done away with.
A WELCOME MOVE BY THE GOVERNMENT
The new Drone Rules 2021 has been promulgated soon after a strike in June this year by armed Drones that carried out bombing attacks on targets inside the Indian Air Force station in Jammu. However, Drones are being spotted frequently loitering inside Indian airspace. Manufacture, trade, operations and ownership of Drones in India are currently limited to companies with majority Indian ownership and control. The new Drone rules seek to ease the entry of foreign manufacturers into the market and are seeking to minimise restrictions in this regard. Opening up to foreign companies will help develop the nation into a major Drone hub.
Issue of Certificate of Airworthiness has been delegated to Quality Council of India and certification entities authorised by it. The MoCA will also facilitate development of Drone corridors for cargo deliveries and a drone promotion council will be set up to facilitate a business-friendly regulatory regime. The government’s decision to liberalise the Drone Policy even after the recent drone incidents in Jammu, reflects the bold approach to promote the use of Drones and the development of Counter-Drone Technology to address the threat posed by rogue Drones. Implementation of the new Drone Policy is a welcome move and will go a long way in facilitating investments in Drone technology in India. What is noteworthy is that despite the recent attack on a military target in India by a Drone operated by the enemy, the government went ahead taking cognizance of the feedback from the stakeholders and moved forward with this legislation that has been considerably simplified.