A draft version of the rules was released earlier in July, and the government had invited feedback on it. The new rules will replace Unmanned Aircraft System Rules 2021 issued in March.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi expects the new rules will “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 reduced.”
Let’s take a look at what compliance requirements and entry barriers have been eased and removed.
The new rules classify drones based on their weight, including the load they can carry.
Drones carrying a weight of 500 kg or less would be covered under the updated rules. Earlier the limit ended at 300 kg. Meaning, rules will cover heavy load-carrying drones and drone taxis.
Drone taxis are a larger version of usual drones. They are like a helicopter, but pilotless and can fly at a speed of 130 km/hour.
Mandatory safety features
All drones must follow a set of mandatory safety features like:
A drone operator doesn’t have to seek security clearances before registering or applying for a license. But they must have a remote pilot license and be listed on Digital Sky. The licenses expire in 10 years.
The civil aviation ministry will develop a digital sky platform. It would be a user-friendly, single-window system with minimal human interface. Most permissions on the platform will be self-generated, the ministry said. The platform will provide a secure and scalable area online that will support drone technology frameworks such as NPNT.
Interested people have to fill only five forms for various permissions now. Earlier the number was 25.
For holding licenses, you must be between the age of 18-65 and should have passed class 10th or its equivalent from a recognised board. Before calling yourself an operator, you must complete the training prescribed by Directer General.
Drone operators who purchased the drones on or before December 31, 2021, must have a unique identification number (UIN). They should also have a Drone Acknowledgement Number (DAN) issued by Digital Sky. The number can be generated by filling form D2 on Digital Sky.
R&D entities, government-recognised educational institutes, government-recognised startups, and drone manufacturers don’t need some documents anymore. These include the certificate of airworthiness, unique identification number, prior permission, and remote pilot license. Nano drone operators do not need these documents either.
But the other types of drone operators do. Quality Council of India (QCI) will issue these certificates on the Digital Sky platform. Otherwise, the drones don’t need to show UIN.
If an operator wants to transfer the drone to someone else, they must fill form D3 on Digital Sky. And if someone has lost their drone, they must deregister, also using the D3 form.
Foreign companies can import and operate drones and their parts in India. However, they will be regulated by the Directorate General of Foreign Trade.
Within a month, the centre will release an airspace map on the Digital Sky. The map will separate airspace into red, yellow, and green zones.
To fly drones in red and yellow zones, you need prior permission. The zones can change with time, so pilots must check before flying the drones. The government can temporarily prohibit flying in any area if need be.
Who can establish these zones: Officers of the rank of a superintendent of police (or equivalent). The officers have to make sure such prohibition is reasonable.
According to the rules, Digital Sky will “endeavour to inform” UIN holders when a temporary red zone is established. But at the end of the day, pilots will be responsible for operating the drone.
The remote pilot license fee is now Rs 100 for all categories of drones. It was Rs 3,000 (for large drones) earlier. The license will be valid for 10 years.
Policing the skies
The Centre will release a framework for the unmanned aircraft system traffic management (UTM) on Digital Sky within 2 months. These rules will announce specific roles, powers, and responsibilities of states and union territories.
Drones will also come under the provision of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988. It will be applied for seeking compensation in case of death, injury, or property damages caused by the drones.
However, nano drones do not need third-party insurance.
The government can fine violators of the rules with penalties up to Rs 1 lakh. They can also cancel the license or any other approval granted under the rules. But the operators will be given a chance to be heard.
Further development? Double check
The civil aviation ministry will also facilitate the development of drone corridors. Such corridors can be used for deliveries. Setting up a drone promotion council is also planned to ensure ease of doing business.
Post-implementation the new rules will generate employment opportunities as there are over 200 startups in this field, the ministry said.