India has decided to free its drone industry from countless complexities and sluggish bureaucracy. The new draft drone rules proposed by the Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) – Drone Rules, 2021 – promise to bring in an era of trust, self-certification, and non-intrusive monitoring. Here are the 20 biggest takeaways…
- Abolition of approvals: You no longer need to apply for unique authorization number, unique prototype identification number, certificate of conformance, certificate of maintenance, import clearance, operator permit, authorization of R&D organization, student remote pilot license, remote pilot instructor authorization, and drone port authorization. As such, the number of forms that a business would typically be required to fill have been reduced from 25 to just 6.
- Licensing fee: The fee for various licenses has been brought down to nominal levels. In contrast to the earlier set of regulations, in Drone Rules, 2021, the licensing fee is not linked to the size of the drone.
- Safety features: A six-month lead time will be provided to existing drone owners for compliance of safety features like “No permission, no take-off” (NPNT), real-time tracking beacon, geo-fencing, etc. These features are to be notified soon.
- Digital Sky platform: The Digital Sky platform is to be developed as a business-friendly single-window online system. There will be minimal human interface on the platform and most permissions will be self-generated.
- Interactive airspace map: An interactive airspace map with green, yellow, and red zones will be displayed on the Digital Sky platform.
- Flight permissions: No flight permission will be required for flying up to 400 feet in green zones and up to 200 feet in the area between 8 and 12 km from the airport perimeter. Moreover, the yellow zone has been reduced from 45 km to 12 km from the airport perimeter.
- Pilot license: No pilot license will required for nano and micro drones (for non-commercial use), and for R&D organizations.
- Foreign companies: No restriction on drone operations by foreign-owned companies registered in India.
- Drone import: Import of drones and drone components will be regulated by the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade.
- Security clearance: No security clearance will be required before any registration or license issuance.
- Research and development: No requirement of a certificate of airworthiness, unique identification number, prior permission, and remote pilot license for R&D entities.
- Air taxis and passenger drones: Coverage of drones under Drone Rules, 2021 has been increased from 300 kg to 500 kg. This means the rules will cover drone taxis also.
- Drone training: All drone training and testing will be carried out by authorized drone schools. The aviation regulatory body, DGCA, shall prescribe training requirements, oversee drone schools, and provide pilot licenses online.
- Drone standards: Issuance of Certificate of Airworthiness has been delegated to the Quality Council of India and certification entities authorized by it.
- Drone UIN: Manufacturers are being enabled to generate their drone’s unique identification number on the Digital Sky platform through the self-certification route.
- Drone transfer and deregistration: The process for the transfer and deregistration of drones has been streamlined. Drone owners will be able to make the changes online using the Digital Sky platform.
- SOPs: Standard operating procedures (SOPs) and training procedure manuals (TPM) will be prescribed by the DGCA on the Digital Sky platform for self-monitoring by drone operators. No approvals will be required unless there is a significant departure from the prescribed procedures.
- Penalties and fines: The maximum penalty under Drone Rules, 2021 has been reduced to INR 1 lakh. However, this shall not apply to penalties in respect to violation of other laws.
- Drone delivery: Drone corridors will be developed for cargo deliveries.
- Drone Promotion Council: An industry trade body called Drone Promotion Council will be set up to facilitate a business-friendly regulatory regime.
For an industry that has been struggling to take off despite boundless potential, these rules come as a breath of fresh air. That the government has taken a pro-community, pro-business approach despite the recent security threats posed by weaponized drones is clear testimony to the fact that the rewards outweigh the risks.
Sure, there is still some ambiguity surrounding the use of popular, off-the-shelf drones like DJI because the list of safety components is yet to be released. And while it’s unlikely that the world’s biggest drone manufacturer will modify its machines to make them NPNT compatible, we can hope that the government may consider allowing Remote ID-enabled drones in nano and micro categories at least.
The draft drone rules are open for suggestions or objections till August 5, 2021. The commercial drone industry made its voice heard and is reaping the rewards. Now, it’s time for hobbyist drone users and photographers to convince the government that a system of trust, self-certification, and non-intrusive monitoring can work for them too.
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