Drones have come into focus since the recent drone attack on the Indian Air Force base in Jammu.
India’s first set of drone regulations came out in 2018 in the form of Civil Aviation Requirements. These requirements could not be fulfilled because the government’s ambitious online platform for monitoring drone operations, Digital Sky, remained inoperative.
Then, in March 2021, the government introduced ‘UAS Rules 2021’ that faced a lot of backlash from stakeholders as it entailed a multi-level licensing and fee payment system for almost every kind of drone-related activity.
Taking such criticism into account, the government has now released the updated Drone Rules, 2021 for public consultation, which will replace the UAS Rules 2021. The last date for public comments is August 5, 2021.
What has changed?
Coverage of drones under the new rules has increased from 300 kg to 500 kg. This will cover drone taxis also.
Many of the approvals required previously – such as unique authorisation number, unique prototype identification number, certificate of conformance, certificate of maintenance and import clearance, to name a few, are not required now.
Digital sky platform shall be developed as a business-friendly, single-window online system. There will be minimal human interface; most permissions will be self-generated.
Interactive airspace maps with green, yellow and red zones will be displayed on the digital sky platform. The ‘Yellow Zone’, flying over which requires permission of the air traffic control authority concerned, has been reduced from 45 km to 12 km from the airport perimeter.
Security clearance is not necessary for registration, license. No need for pilot licence for micro-drones.
Unlike the previous rules, there are no restrictions now on drone operations by foreign-owned companies registered in India. The draft rules propose to reduce fee to nominal levels, delinking fee from the size of the drone. The maximum penalty is ₹1 lakh. This, however, excludes penalties for violations of other laws.
The government also intends to create a trade body called the Drone Promotion Council, involving industry and academic experts for policy advice, to foster a business-friendly regulatory regime.
Built on the premise of trust, self-certification and non-intrusive monitoring, the Drone Rules, 2021 aim to strike a balance between safety and ease of operations. The Drone Rules, 2021 are far simpler than the UAS Rules, 2021 and they will not just help promote the use of drones but also focus on the development of technologies that address the threat posed by rogue drones.
(The authors are Managing Partner and Senior Associate, respectively, at Advaya Legal, a Mumbai-based law firm)