With advancements in information technology and the advent of cheaper and smaller sensors, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, or drones, have become the go-to solution for multiple sectors. However, for drones to actually contribute to a country’s innovation and economy, a thriving commercial industry supported by a set of favorable and forward-looking policies is a must. Perhaps that is why when the Indian Ministry of Civil Aviation came out with the Unmanned Aircraft System Rules, 2021 in March this year, several concerns were voiced by the Indian drone industry. In a relief for the country’s drone community, the ministry has repealed the previous rules based on “valuable feedback from academia, industry, and other stakeholders”, and has come out with a fresh set of draft drone rules.
Also Read: Flying Concerns
What was wrong with the previous rules?
The rules declared on March 12, 2021 introduced a thick bureaucratic layer into processes and allegedly suppressed innovation. They were also in contradiction to the Government of India’s larger policies of self-reliance, good governance, and enabling ease of doing business. The rules required a multi-level licensing and fee system for almost all drone-related activities. So, everyone associated with the drone ecosystem had to undertake a registration in the capacity of an ‘authorized’ importer, manufacturer, trader, owner or operator by submitting an application with the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA).
Further, all research and development organizations in India, including startups, authorized UAS manufacturers, or accredited institutions of higher education, needed a prior authorization from DGCA to carry out research and development (R&D). Since the term R&D had not been defined, there was no way to understand the scope of the restriction. To obtain a Certificate of Manufacture and Airworthiness, drones were required to be equipped with a host of components and features, which, the industry leaders felt, was counterproductive, as there were bound to be cost implications.
How are the new rules better?
The new rules bring in relief through less restrictions and specific focus areas. Some of the main highlights of the new rules include:
- Those flying a drone weighing up to 2kg for non-commercial purposes will not require a pilot license. However, a license will be needed for drones weighing more than 2kg being deployed for commercial use.
- The government may promote the adoption and use of drones through the creation of a Drone Promotion Council, which will facilitate the development of a business-friendly regulatory regime, including automated permissions; establishment of incubators and other facilities for the development of drone technologies; involvement of industry experts and academic institutions in policy advice; and organizing of competitive events involving drones and counter-drone technologies.
- Research and development entities recognized by the government; educational institutions recognized by the government; startups recognized by the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade; and drone manufacturer having a Goods and Service Tax Identification Number will not require a certificate of airworthiness, unique identification number, prior permission and remote pilot license for operating drones for research and development purposes in green zones.
- Third-party insurance will not be needed for nano drones. For all other categories, the provisions of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 would apply.
- The government may 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 metres.
- The airspace map for drone operations will be designed to be programmatically accessible through a machine readable API and interactive so that drone pilots will be able to plot their proposed flight plan and easily identify the zones.
- The government will notify safety features to be installed on every drone which could include ‘no permission – no takeoff’ (NPNT) hardware and firmware; real-time tracking beacon that communicates the drone’s location, altitude, speed, and UIN; and geo-fencing capability.
The government has kept the draft drone rules open for suggestions and objections until August 5, 2021. A person can share his/her views by sending a mail to [email protected] with “Suggestions for draft Drone Rules, 2021” as the subject line.