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“If paparazzi armed with telephoto lenses have long
been the scourge of the rich and famous; civilian drones are fast
becoming the new menace to the ordinary man on the street. As with
all new inventions, there are upsides and downsides. The commercial
drone is no exception. But until robust safeguards have been
introduced to protect personal privacy from prying eyes in the
skies, the true benefits to society of unmanned aerial vehicles
will remain unrealised.” – Alex Morritt, Impromptu
The word ‘drone’ refers primarily to unmanned aircrafts
or ships guided by remote control or onboard computers.
India’s history of drones’ dates back to the 1990s,
when the Indian Army acquired unmanned aerial vehicles or UAVs from
Israel, and the Indian Air Force and Navy followed suit. India
first used military drones for photo reconnaissance along the Line
of Control, during the 1999 Kargil war with Pakistan. Since Kargil,
India has procured numerous Israeli military unmanned aircraft to
loiter over military targets such as surveillance bases and radar
stations. They have been designed to have a minimal radar
signature, allowing them to perform stealth operations. Meanwhile,
state-run Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and
several other private Indian companies are making drones and
developing UAV technologies.
In India, the use of all aerial vehicles, manned or unmanned,
are governed by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA).
Till the start of the 20th century, the development and
use of drones occurred predominantly in the context of warfare by
the military. Flying remote-controlled aircrafts has today
significantly become a hobby, drones are, evolving into mainstream
civilian purposes, akin to the internet and the global positioning
system (GPS), which were initially used in the military. The use of
drones is rapidly expanding to commercial and civil government
applications like scientific, recreational, agricultural,
product delivery, aerial photography, infrastructure inspections,
drone racing, policing and surveillance, firefighting, and more.
Drones are a common sight even in weddings across India. This has
prompted the DGCA to formulate new rules and regulations to govern
the civilian use of drones in India.
The Drone Rules, 2021 (“Drone Rules”) was issued by
the Ministry of Civil Aviation on August 26, 2021 and do not apply
to drones used by the naval, military or air forces of India. The
Drone Rules have been issued in supersession of the earlier
Unmanned Aircraft System Rules, 2021 (“UAS Rules”),
which came into force on March 12, 2021. The Drone Rules were
issued with the aim to be at par with global regulations and
replace the UAS Rules that were believed to be rather restrictive
owing to its labyrinthine processes and compliances. Prime Minister
Narendra Modi states that the new Drone Rules shall “usher in
a landmark moment for this sector in India. The rules are based on
the premise of trust and self-certification. Approvals, compliance
requirements and entry barriers have been significantly
One of the most significant changes that the Drone Rules has
brought about is the way people can now gain authorisation to fly
drones. With recreational drone use on the rise, the most popular
devices in this segment (due to their affordability and
practicality) are likely to be classified as micro and nano drones
for which users will no longer need a remote pilot’s license.
The number of forms and amount of fees have been whittled down too
– people now need to identify one of five forms and have to
pay one of four categories of fees. The quantum of fees has been
reduced to nominal levels and delinked with the size of the drone.
The number of approval forms is reduced from 25 to 5 and the types
of fees reduced from 72 to 4. The fee for a remote pilot license
fee has been reduced from Rs 3000 (for large drones) to Rs 100 for
all categories of drones and is valid for 10 years.
The Drone Rules provide for the better development of the
Digital Sky platform, an initiative by the aviation ministry to
provide a secure and scalable platform that supports drone
technology frameworks such as NPNT (no permission, no take-off),
designed to enable flight permissions digitally and managing
unmanned aircraft operations and traffic efficiently. Digital Sky
will be developed as a user-friendly, single-window system with
minimal human interface, and with most permissions self-generated.
The Digital Sky website will also have an interactive airspace map.
The map will come with green, yellow and red zones. No permission
is required for operating drones in green zones.
Another important aspect is that the coverage of drones under
Drone Rules has been increased from 300kg to 500kg and will cover
drone taxis. Drones under the Drone Rules have been categorised
into 5 categories – Nano (less than 250 gms), Micro
(250gms-2kgs), Small (2kg-25kg), Medium (25kg to 150kg) and Large
(above 150kgs). Nano drones are exempted from obtaining Unique
Identification Numbers and Unmanned Aircraft Operator Permit
(UAOP). Also, no remote pilot licence is required for micro drones
(for non-commercial use). The Drone Rules 2021 has also done away
with the requirement of possessing a certificate of airworthiness,
a unique identification number, prior permission and remote pilot
licence for entities engaged in research and development (R&D)
The Drone Rules sets out a liberalized version of the UAS Rules
and will exempt a drone operator from seeking security clearance
before registering a drone or applying for a licence. The Drone
Rules has also made it easier for companies wanting to deploy
drones as well as those seeking to produce or import it.
Previously, a foreign company or its subsidiary was not allowed to
operate drones in India. Under the Drone Rules, foreign companies
registered in India will be allowed to import and operate drones
and their parts and will be regulated by the Directorate General of
With the new Drone Rules 2021, individuals as well as
organisations in India are set to find it easier to own and operate
drones, setting the stage for the wider use of drones in the
country. This will be critical because drones have emerged as an
essential part of future technologies. World over, the small flying
machines are gathering data from hard-to-reach places, helping
humans avoid treacherous locations, improving the speed of
life-saving assistance and may someday even emerge as a mode of
transport. However, with the liberalisation of the Drone Rules, one
particular area of concern that persists is that drones are
expected to capture vast amounts of data. This will inevitably
include sensitive information, such as the location of an
individual, their residence and nature of their large assets such
as property and vehicle. Advances in technology mean operators can
also potentially use drones for close surveillance, using, for
instance, face recognition. At present, the regulatory mechanism
proposed under the personal data protection law to prohibit the
abuse of such data is yet to be put in place and will need to fast
track the same soon.
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