The Indian Ministry of Civil Aviation has come up with the new drone rules
streamlining the process of registering, owning and flying a drone in India. The
Drone Rules 2021 repeal the Unmanned Aviation Vehicle (UAV) Rules 2021 that were
issued by the Ministry in March.
Coming weeks after the drone attack at the Jammu Air Base, the new rules have
been published as a result of the severe backlash received for the UAV Rules
from the drone manufacturers/importers and the enthusiasts alike for being too
constrictive and procedurally onerous, especially in a market which is growing
at an exponential rate globally in the pandemic times.
Government, in the new rules has primarily focused on self-certification and
non-intrusive monitoring as against the security-centric rules published in
March and consequentially removed a number of operational complexities for all
stakeholders in the drone industry.
To what will these rules apply to?
These rules will apply to any autonomous or remotely operated aircraft
(hereafter, drone) under or equal to 500 kg; exceeding which the aircraft will
be governed by the Aircraft Rules, 1937. This 500 kg maximum limit corresponds
to the all-up weight
which is the total weight of the drone at the time
of take-off including the weight of the several accessories and the payload (if
any) attached to the body of the unmanned aircraft system.
Classification of drones:
Drones have been classified into 5 major categories on the basis of their all-up
weights (AUW) as under the new rules. They are:
- Nano drones (upto 250 g)
- Micro drones (250 g upto 2 kg)
- Small drones (2 kg upto 25 kg)
- Medium drones (25 kg upto 150 kg)
- Large drone (greater than 150 kg)
This classification comes as a welcome development for recreational or
non-commercial drone operators as subjecting drones of all types, despite vast
differences in their utility and areas of employment to the same rules would
otherwise, cause several procedural and material hindrances for casual and
professional operators alike. Licensing and certification regulations have been
relaxed for smaller drones consequently.
As per the Drone Rules 2021, every new drone needs to be registered with the
digital sky platform and have a Unique Identification Number (UIN). A person
owning an existing drone imported or manufactured before 31st December 2021
needs to self-register and generate the UIN which can be conveniently done
online on the aforementioned platform.
Licensing and certification
A mandatory remote pilot license is required to operate any drone within the
borders of India. However such a license will not be required for the operation
of nano drones and non-commercial micro drones under the new drone rules. The
license can be obtained on successful completion of the training from an
authorised remote pilot training organisation following which it needs to be
enlisted on the government's digital sky platform specifically mentioning the
drone class for which such a license has been granted for.
Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Uran Akademi teaming up with Drone Destination, a
drone-specific tech start-up has set up two of the remote pilot training schools
in Manesar and Bengaluru with an aim to open such schools all over the country.
The license will be valid for a period of 10 years and maybe renewed by any
authorised remote pilot training organisation for a specified period subject to
guidelines of the Director General of Civil Aviation.
Furthermore, a drone needs to comply with a certificate of airworthiness issued
by the Quality Council of India (QCI). The standards of such certification shall
be specified by the central government on the recommendations of the QCI. The
onus of obtaining such a certificate is on the manufacturer/importer and not the
owner/operator. Prototype drones employed for research and development and nano
drones shall be exempted from obtaining a certificate of airworthiness.
Zone demarcations and drone operations
As per the new rules, the Central government plans to divide the entire airspace
of India into three operation zones, (i) green, (ii) yellow and (iii) red. An
operator would need prior permission of the relevant authorities before flying
any drone in the red or yellow zones and no prior permission is required to fly
a drone in the green zones up to an altitude of 200 feet. The government plans
to create an interactive machine accessible interface for the zonal maps for the
ease of the drone operators in mapping their flight routes.
A list of No-fly zones has also been published which includes areas within five
kilometres radius around all the six major international airports, three
kilometres around any civil or military airport, twenty-five kilometres from the
LOC, LAC and AGPL amongst other areas.
Plans to create an Unmanned Aircraft System Traffic Management (UTM) System are
also in order which will be accessible through the digital sky platform. Such a
traffic management system shall be a major leap towards creating safe drone
corridors in the country that would open drone operations to a multitude of
opportunities like safe delivery of goods and medicines as is the need of the
Insurance, prosecution and penalties
Mandatory insurance is required for any material damage caused by the drone
and will be governed by Motor Vehicles Act 1988. Nano drones again have been
exempted from requiring such insurance to operate.
On the non-compliance of Drone Rules, 2021, the person shall be punishable under
Section 10 (2) of the Aircraft Act, 1934 which entails an imprisonment of upto 2
Furthermore, the Director General of Civil Aviation upon his satisfaction,
after providing the offender a fair chance of being heard, may impose a penalty
of Rupees one lakh.
The good and the bad- How will these rules affect us?
India has a policy of 'no permission, no take-off (NPNT)' in place for every
class of drones barring nano drones. Under the previous rules, this essentially
entailed the operator to take permission through the digital sky platform for
each and every flight made regardless of the zone the drone was being operated
in (flights in green zone were to be also notified of on the digital sky
platform through a portal/app). Futhermore, the demarcated 'free-to-fly' green
zones were too few and far between. Under the new rules there is no permission
required for take-off in the green zones.
Be it delivery services, emergency relief services, remote sensing or
photography, the facets of life drones could have an impact on is endless.
Several food delivery services like Zomato and Swiggy were granted licenses for
test delivery services last year. In another futuristic example of drone
deployment Google's Dunzo Digital has already began the experimental BVLOS
(Below Visual Line of Sight) delivery of medicines to Covid-19 patients in the
state of Telangana which entails covering a minimum distance of 500 metres from
the operator in a straight line flight.
However, the relaxation of drone rules also raises a bunch of safety concerns.
With the advances in camera and surveillance tech in the past decade, a tussle
between streamlining the use of drones and questions regarding mass-surveillance
and privacy has plagued the policy drafters of western nations for some time
now. India is currently standing at the same doorstep. Easing the use of drones
may help the law enforcing authorities in maintaining better order but then it
comes at the price of every citizen's privacy.
Furthermore, not only government authorities but it also makes very easy for
private parties to knowingly or unknowingly encroach upon private spaces of
other citizens. The new drone rules don't talk about the surveillance aspect of
drone operations explicitly and no complaint redressal system has been put in
place with the various implications over-use of drones may cause regards to
Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution.
The new regulations have also dropped a
number of specific rules in order to simplify the usage of drones, however too
much simplifying may pose problems of its own. For example, the new rules don't
address use of drones in national parks and other ecological protection zones
which was banned as per the March 2021 rules.
Drones originating in India maybe regulated by NPNT guidelines and the online
Digital Sky platform, but that does not take away the threat faced from foreign
drones. Drone attack on Jammu airbase in July of 2021 is a direct example of the
threats misuse of drones may imply. In another recent example a drone assumed to
be of of Pakistani origin was spotted airdropping 6 kg of Heroin near the
Indo-Pakistan border in Amritsar.
The new rules have not put in place a new body
acting as a 'drone police', however, major technological advancements will still
be required to develop a foolproof detection system that can be employed on the
national borders and places of national or strategic importance.
Over the past few years, drones globally have become instrumental for several
businesses and organisations in reaching places that were geographically or
topographically impenetrable. Furthermore, they have come to the fore in several
new sectors such as advertisement, contactless deliveries, photography,
reconnaissance and the list is endless.
Drone tech is evolving everyday and the
possibilities for their employment in various sectors seem limitless. India with
these new drone rules has recognised the boundless potential this tech can have
on the near future and has adopted a forward-thinking approach towards their
regulation, taking the public backlash into consideration and re-evaluating the
regressive approach taken in the earlier UAV Rules. This will, in turn open many
new doors for research and innovation in this sector.
However, a more detailed framework regarding the NPNT tech and BVLOS is still
required to be provided by the rules. A defense investment is also required for
anti-drone machinery in order to tackle the security issues on national borders.
The government is expected to release more notifications regarding the privacy
concerns and other issues around drone operation.
A balance between granting
freedom and putting a reasonable restraint on that freedom shall always be up
for debate. However, with the utility and the speed at which drones are being
adopted in a variety of fields, it would be safe to say, sky is the limit!