Incidentally, these were the first rules that were repealed by the Modi government. What does that indicate? That the government is open to logic and change. Earlier rules that were issued in March were perceived draconian by several start-ups and industry experts. But the government took their suggestions and opinions positively and published the draft rules about which I have written earlier.
New Drone Rules were published on August 25, 2021 about which Prime Minister Narendra Modi had tweeted, “The new drone rules usher in a landmark moment for the sector in India.” Indeed, at this stage, these rules will not only address the concerns of Armed Forces and security agencies to a large extent but will also enable a larger good of the nation. It is undoubtedly a tightrope walk, especially after the recent drone attack on Jammu airbase and pressures from start-ups and drone companies. In spite of these challenges, the government did come up with a policy that is win-win for all.
A lot of companies, secretariats, FICCI, DGCA and several other government agencies worked tirelessly to come out with the new rules. Incidentally, this is the 28th version that got passed with flying colours.
A few important aspects of the rules are:
1. To obtain a drone pilot’s licence is now within everybody’s reach. Government’s charges for drone licences is only Rs 100, which is roughly $1.5. Such charges will force many remote pilots’ training organisations to reduce their fee. This would mean that they won’t have to pay hefty fees for obtaining a drone licence. Today, drones are used at a wedding function or any important event, even for TV serials, web series or movies. To capture an aerial footage, one doesn’t need a helicopter, drone pilots will do the job. This area will benefit the most from the new drone rules.
2. Provisions, which were considered draconian for the industry have been removed from the new rules, which focus on self-governance, self-certification and the low charges to obtain a licence. For example, to obtain a remote pilot training organisation certification in the earlier rule, it would cost you upwards of Rs 10,000, which has been reduced to Rs 1,000. Moves like these show that the government is interested in not only give impetus to drones but also to show to the public that it listens to reasons.
3. The number of forms that were published in the previous round rule was 25 and in the current rule is five. It appears that someone has done a lot of work in simplifying the drone rules whilst maintaining relevance.
4. Children, who want to fly drones, which weighs less than 250 gm, and people who fly drones, which weighs less than 2 kg for non-commercial purposes, do not need to have a drone pilot licence. This is a huge step in not only ensuring that children are exposed to drones at an early age but it also encourages companies to make toy-class drones.
5. According to the earlier provisions, receiving a green zone approval was a Herculean task. That has been changed in this particular rule that clearly says that areas, which are not a red or yellow region is automatically a green region. Drone owners can fly up to 400 feet in these regions without much of hassle. The only certification that they would need would be a DIN number for those drones and a pilot licence. This drone should have a third-party insurance, which would ensure that whatever damage that the drone would pose when it crashes would be taken care by the insurance company. This too is a very welcome move.
6. Earlier rule gave a drone pilot license validity for only one year that has been changed to 10 years. This change is likely to reduce the financial burden on all those drone pilots who fly at private functions.
7. DGCA has laid out a syllabus for drone pilots training that covers all salient aspects that an aspiring drone pilot would need to know. This particular syllabus has been curated well and has been kept within the reach of the understanding of children who are of 18 years of age and have passed Class 10.
8. Unmanned Aircraft Systems Promotion Council is likely to be set up under the government, which would have experts from the area of drones. This is a welcome move as the involvement of industry experts, academia and experts from allied fields would propel the future of drone to much greater heights.
9. Unmanned traffic management is a complex subject and a lot of companies are working on this particular area. There are companies, which have incorporated artificial intelligence and machine learning to solve the complex problem of drone identification and classification. This data will be exchanged with AAI and also with Indian Air Force to ensure that the manned platform knows the position of drones. This will ensure that there is a proper safety clearance between manned and the unmanned aeroplanes.
10. Creation of drone corridors is probably one of the best aspect of this particular policy. This rule itself will usher in a lot of economic activity in terms of short haul transportation of goods between metros and satellite towns at the fraction of a cost. Technology involved in making such an aeroplane and logistics would benefit allied industries as well. They may compete with road traffic and probably hyper loop in the future.
As you can see the number of positive features have been included. Probably, future will prove that people who made the rules had the foresight of shape of things to come in the world. How will the future pan out with drones buzzing around enabled with artificial intelligence and machine learning and how much would this translate to a good cause rather than a bad one only time will tell.
Disclaimer:The author is Group Captain (retd), Fighter Pilot, MiG-21, Mirage-2000, and a drone expert
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the stand of this publication.)