The civil aviation ministry on Thursday issued the Draft Drone Rules, 2021, seeking public consultation before notifying them to replace the Unmanned Aircraft System Rules issued in March this year. This comes days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi chaired a meeting of top ministers to discuss the formulation of a policy for the traffic management of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) or drones. The meeting was held in the aftermath of a drone attack on the Indian Air Force base in Jammu.
According to the draft rules, reviewed by HT, approvals for the unique authorisation number, unique prototype identification number, certificate of conformance, certificate of maintenance, import clearance, acceptance of existing drones, operator permits, authorisation of R&D organisation, student remote pilot licence, remote pilot instructor authorisation, drone port authorisation, etc have been abolished. The rules refer to an interactive airspace map with green, yellow, and red zones for display on the Digital Sky.
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Digital Sky is an online platform hosted by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) for activities related to the management of drone activities in India.
“The Central Government may, within 30 days of the date of notification of these rules, publish on the digital sky platform, an airspace map for drone operations segregating the entire airspace of India into red, yellow and green zones, with a horizontal resolution equal or finer than 10 metre,” the draft rules say.
The yellow zone has been reduced from 45 km to 12 km from the airport perimeters. No flight permission will be required up to 400 feet in green zones and up to 200 feet in the areas between 8 and 12 km from airport perimeters.
Green zone refers to the airspace from the ground up to a vertical distance of 400 feet (120 metre) 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 metre) AGL in the area located between a lateral distance of 8 kilometre and 12 kilometre from the perimeter of an operational airport.
Red zone refers to the airspace of defined dimensions, above the land areas or territorial waters of India, or any installation or notified port limits specified by the Central Government beyond the territorial waters of India within which drone operations shall be permitted only under exceptional circumstances.
“The airspace map for drone operations shall be designed to be programmatically accessible through a machine-readable Application Programming Interface (API) and interactive so that drone pilots will be able to plot their proposed flight plan and easily identify the zone(s) within which it falls so as to assess whether or not they need to make an application for prior approval,” say the rules.
Discussions on a draft policy on drones have been on for over two years. The draft policy says the integration of UAS into the National Airspace System (NAS) presents a raft of challenges, both technical and operational. Integrating the UAS operations within the current air traffic management (ATM) systems may bring in the need to equip UAS with additional hardware on board, the rules say.
The objective of the policy is to enable more types of unmanned aircraft operational scenarios, increase the ease of compliance for the unmanned aviation industry while ensuring safety and security.
The ability to identify and track a UAS flying in the Indian airspace will prove to be a very important capability while enabling high density, complex UAS operations, the draft policy says.
The draft policy says there will be a minimal human interface on the Digital Sky platform and most permissions will be self-generated. It also propose to reduce fees to nominal levels and not linking the fee with the size of the drone.
Safety features like “No permission – no take-off”, real-time tracking beacon, geo-fencing etc are to be notified in future. A six-month lead time will be provided for compliance.
The Centre has relaxed several other existing rules in the draft document. It also states no pilot licence will be required for micro drones (for non-commercial use), nano drones and for R&D organisations. There will be no restriction on drone operations by foreign-owned companies registered in India. No security clearance will be required before any registration or licence issuance.
Standard operating procedures and training procedure manuals will be prescribed by DGCA on the Digital Sky platform for self-monitoring by users. No approvals will be required unless there is a significant departure from the prescribed procedures, the draft policy says.